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    A newspaper in New York has received a wave of criticism from its readers after publishing the names and addresses of all of the individuals with handgun or pistol permits in its coverage area.

    Hundreds of residents in New York's Westchester and Rockland counties were surprised to find their names and addresses listed on a map posted by The Journal News on Sunday. Users can click any dot on the map to see which of their neighbors has a permit for a gun.[...]

    "This is CRAZY!! why in the world would you post every licensed gun owner information?? What do you hope to accomplish by doing this. This is the type of thing you do for sex offenders not law abiding gun owners. What next? should i hang a flag outside my house that says I own a gun? I am canceling my subscription with your paper today!!!" said commenter Curtis Maenza.

    "How about a map of the editorial staff and publishers of Gannett and Journal News with names and addresses of their families…," wrote commenter George Thompson.[...]

    In a statement to ABC News, The Journal News said its readers "are understandably interested to know about guns in their neighborhoods," because of the conversation about gun control on its website after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last week.

    As we currently contemplate compiling a national database of names of people who are not permitted to carry firearms, because of their psychological or legal history, this story reminds us of the ethical considerations and unintended consequences of such lists becoming public knowledge.

    The guns used in the firefighter ambush that killed Lt. Mike Chiapperini, 43 and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, were legally purchased but stolen according to the attorney of the woman arrested in connection with the firearms used.

    However, evidence suggests that the gun buyer purchased the gun by supplying false statements to the gun shop.

    REECE, N.Y. -- A 24-year-old woman was arrested Friday in connection with two of the firearms used in the Christmas Eve shooting of four volunteer firefighters.

    Around 1:40 p.m., New York State Police, Webster Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives descended on the home where Dawn Nguyen and her mother, Dawn Welsher, were staying. Nguyen was taken out of the home in handcuffs.[...]

    U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. said at a 4 p.m. ET press conference that Nguyen bought the guns on June 6, 2010, from a Gander Mountain store in Henrietta, south of Rochester. He said she bought them on behalf of William Spengler Jr., a former neighbor in Webster who set fire to his home and ambushed first responders before dawn Monday.

    As as a convicted felon, Spengler was banned from owning guns. He served 17 years in state prison for killing his grandmother with a hammer in 1980. Nguyen lived next door to Spengler in 2008, in the house where he killed his grandmother.

    "It is sometimes referred to acting as a 'straw purchaser' and that is exactly what today's complaint alleges," Hochul said.

    Hochul indicated that in his rambling suicide note, Spengler revealed how he got the guns.

    Nguyen's lawyer, Dave Palmiere, said that his client "purchased the weapons legally, and they were stolen," but that she doesn't recall whether she reported the theft to police.

    Thanks for this update SoCalSal.

    WEBSTER, N.Y. - The neighbor of a convicted felon who ambushed firefighters on Christmas Eve, killing two, bought the guns for him and lied to the seller, knowing that he wasn'€™t allowed to have them, authorities said Friday.

    William Spengler had picked out the semiautomatic rifle and shotgun used in the ambush and went to the sporting goods store with the neighbor when she bought them for him, U.S. Attorney William Hochul said.

    The neighbor, Dawn Nguyen of Rochester, was arrested Friday. She faces a federal charge of knowingly making a false statement for signing a form indicating she would be the legal owner of the guns, Hochul said. She also was charged with a state count of filing a falsified business record, State Police Senior Investigator James Newell said.

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    The headline is a quote from Lawrence O'Donnell's "Rewrite," that aired last night and it comes at the 08:06 point in the video.

    It was one of the most informative episodes I have ever seen about the sausage-making required to get a deal done and a bill made in Washington, D.C.,--by someone who has actually done it.

    Also check out WineRev's diary, The Left's Sequester Leverage, which provides excellent information about the advantage the Democrats have in the debt ceiling deal to come.

    Here's my transcript of Lawrence O'Donnell's "Rewrite".

    JOHN BOEHNER: It's a very simple equation. Tax increases destroy jobs.

    LAWRENCE O'DONNELL: So that's the big lie. Right? That's the big Republican lie about taxes and yeah the way John Boehner just said it: It's a lie.

    We did the biggest tax increase in history in 1993. The economy soared. Unemployment went down dramatically.

    That's the Democratic party's answer to the Republicans big lie.

    But then, there's the time, that taxes did destroy jobs and Democrats admitted that and fixed it  and they fixed it without any help from a single Republican.

    As mentioned here last night, the last time Congressional Republicans voted for a tax increase was in 1990 under President George H.W. Bush and that included a tax increase that was a brand new tax, a luxury tax on cars, private planes and private boats.

    The automobile industry was not hurt by the luxury tax on cars. It meant a $300 tax on a $33,000 car over 20 years ago, which back then was a very expensive car.

    But the luxury tax on boats?

    It wiped out jobs in the boat-building communities in Rhode Island, in Maine and elsewhere.

    It was not a tax on commercial fishing boats--just new boats, recreational boats--priced over $100,000.

    It was never going to hurt the cop, or the autoworker or the teacher who goes out on the lake in the summer, with a little island and a little outboard.

    Just new boats, big boats, over $100,000. Something that no one actually needs. A perfectly targeted luxury tax. Right?

    New boats over $100,000. But that tax instantaneously killed boat-building jobs in America. It did not kill mega yacht-building jobs in foreign countries, where the mega-rich went to buy their newest floating palaces. It did not kill boat-selling jobs here in the United States because the tax didn't apply to used boats.

    So the buyer who was looking at a $200,000 new boat or a million dollar new boat, took another look at the market here and went out and bought a used boat--maybe a year or two old--and didn't pay any tax at all, no matter how much they paid for the used boat.

    John Chafee, then a Republican senator from Rhode Island, teamed up with Democrat George Mitchell of Maine (who also happened to be the Majority Leader at the time), to teach the Senate that the luxury tax on boats was basically raising zero revenue.

    It really was.  

    And it was killing jobs which meant it was actually losing money for the Treasury because those unemployed boat builders were no longer paying any income taxes.

    A classic case of unintended consequences which we set about to fix in 1993, when the Senate was working on a huge deficit reduction bill that cut Medicare spending and increased income tax rates and while we were at it, got rid of the luxury tax on boats.

    John Chafee was then known as a moderate Republican from Rhode Island. Today his voting record would qualify him as a liberal Republican from Rhode Island.

    John Chafee liked most of what we were doing in that deficit reduction bill. He did not like tax increases. But he had voted for tax increases before, under Republican Presidents.

    He certainly thought the Medicare cuts were a necessary step and he loved--and I mean, loved--the elimination of the luxury tax on boats.

    At that point, there was nothing more important to Republican John Chafee, in the Senate, than repealing the Rhode Island, job-killing, luxury tax on new boats.

    Before putting the repeal in the bill, I personally went to John Chafee and tried to get his vote for the tax bill on the condition that we put in the repeal of the luxury tax on boats.

    And I couldn't get his vote.

    John Chafee's dear friend, then the chairman of the tax committee, Senator Moynihan, tried toget  Senator Chafee's vote on the basis of the repeal of the boat tax and brought a broader appeal to John Chafee's old-fashioned Republcan sense of fiscal responsibility.

    And he could not get John Chafee's vote.

    There were other Republican votes we were hoping to get--all Senators who would now be considered liberals in the Senate.

    But we couldn't get one of them--not one Republican vote--because the bill contained increases in income tax rates.

    Now if you know that story. If you've ever actually tried to get a Republican in the House or Senate to vote on an income tax rate increase, proposed by a Democratic president--if you've done that--and perhaps only if you've done that, then you understand how hard it was for President Obama to get a tax increase out of a Republican House of Representatives and out of a Senate where the Republicans can block anything.

    Most pundits and members of Congress for that matter have never negotiated anything more complicated than a car loan or a mortgage and some of them will surely continue to criticize the President's negotiating skills but the President was playing a very long game here, literally years of strategizing, including allowing a two-year extension of the Bush rates in order to get strategically positioned, so that he could force Republicans to cast a vote they vowed never to cast.

    JOHN MCCAIN: I stand on my record and my record is 24 years of opposing tax increases and I oppose them and I will continue to oppose them.

    LO: So first of all, Senator Barack Obama had to beat John McCain to win the Presidency. Then he had to go and win re-election while his Republican opponents were saying this every day:

    ERIC CANTOR: We say, we weren't elected to raise taxes. We want to go and help people get back to work.

    LO: And President Obama was not just trying to get these guys to vote for a tax increase. He needed them to vote for an extension of unemployment benefits, which were going to be cut off on New Year's Day.

    The dynamics of the fiscal cliff gave the President the strategic advantage of negotiating the tax side of what he wanted to do but he absolutely had no leverage on the unemployment side of the bill.

    He was also absolutely determined to not let that lifeline be cut off to those people who have been out of work for so long and so he made a minor concession to Republicans on exactly where the top tax bracket would kick in.

    And the President and the Democrats very cleverly set that threshold at exactly where it would be today if the Clinton tax rates had never been repealed: a 39.6 percent tax rate on incomes over $400,000.

    When we enacted the 39.6 percent rate in 1993, it was on incomes over $250,000. Adjusting for inflation, which the IRS actually does every year with the tax brackets, that $250,000 in the last 20 years, has moved all the way up to $397,000.

    So the Republican party, which voted unanimously against the 39.6 percent top tax rate under President Clinton, provided more than enough votes to restore it under President Obama.

    I have not heard one word of criticism of President Obama's negotiating skills from anyone who has ever been in the room, with a real live, Republican--one on one--trying to get that Republican to vote on a tax increase.

    I was in the room with President Clinton when he caved on the big item in the tax bill in 1993.  Some of you might remember the so-called BTU tax, a tax that Al Gore was supporting, on all energy sources.

    It was the centerpiece of the Clinton tax bill. And the President gave up on it in the Oval Office on the day that we told him that we did not have the votes for it in the Senate.

    And that was the right thing to do. The Presidential thing to do.

    I never admired President Clinton's quick decision-making more, than in that moment, when he set us free to go pursue a simple, old-fashioned, increase in the gasoline tax.

    So instead of a big, shiny, new environmental tax, we got a tiny little 4.3 cent increase in the gasoline tax. And when the bill passed in the Senate at 2 o'clock in the morning--the time these bills always pass in the Senate--there were no reports of President Clinton caving on the BTU tax.

    The President did what he had to do to get the job done. The President did what he had to do for the good of the country.

    That's what the oath of office promises he will do.

    And so the Clinton top income tax rate of 39.6 percent is back in law tonight, because once again, the President did what he had to do to get the job done.

    The President did what he had to do for the good of the country.

    WASHINGTON — Republican aides are calling out the White House for scheduling President Barack Obama's remarks on avoiding the sequester at the same time House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is delivering a major address Tuesday afternoon.

    Cantor's address to the American Enterprise Institute at 1 p.m. has been on the books for weeks, and is billed by his aides as an agenda-setting speech — and one, that according to excerpts, will continue the party's shift away from a singular focus on fiscal isses.

    I was not aware of this epic, agenda-setting, teeth-brightening, hair-volumizing speech, that has been on the books for weeks.

    But if I am to believe the GOP, millions of Americans were anticipating this speech like Beyonce fans tuning into the Superbowl and that has now all been ruined by the Ruiner of Everything, Barack Hussein Obama.

    GOP Communications director, Rory Cooper.

    Brendan Buck, House communications director for legislative initiatives.

    Now all the C-Span watch parties that were planned in anticipation of Eric Cantor's speech, have been ruined as the President rains on the GOP's parade, with a speech about his proposed alternative to the automatic sequestration cuts arriving in four weeks.

    So in order to save the Republic and in the spirit of bi-partisanship, please watch the President live and then TiVo Eric Cantor, who is giving a very important speech today.

    The President is scheduled to make his presentation at 1:15 CT (Cantor Time.)

    For those that can find the words, feel free to discuss how past speeches from Eric Cantor have fundamentally changed your lives.

    A brief diary about loss in changing times.

    WASHINGTON — The Postal Service is expected to announce on Wednesday morning that it will stop delivering letters and other mail on Saturdays, but continue to handle packages, a move the financially struggling agency said would save about $2 billion annually as it looks for ways to cut cost.
    Monopoly ditches iron counter in favour of cat

    Members of the international boardgame-playing community, not to mention fans of small symbols of domestic drudgery, have been left reeling by the news that the iron counter is to be permanently exiled from Monopoly and replaced with the tiny metal effigy of a cat.

    The decision follows a month-long Facebook vote in which Monopoly enthusiasts were invited to cull one of the old-guard counters and replace it with one that better reflected "the interests of today's players".

    After what must have been some particularly excruciating soul-searching, fans opted for the cat over the other contenders – a toy robot, a guitar, a helicopter and a diamond ring – and voted to reject the iron and keep the Scottie dog, the racing car, the top hat, the thimble, the shoe, the battleship and the wheelbarrow.

    According to the game's maker, Hasbro, the cat attracted 31% of the total vote. Sadly, the iron, which has made its way around the board since the 1930s, finally ran out of steam, winning just 8% of the vote to the overwhelmingly popular Scottie dog's 29%.

    As Q-Tip says in the Janet Jackson video below, Joni Mitchell never lied: "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got til its gone."

  • 04/07/13--22:14: Living in a Zero TV World (chan 4836812)
  • In November of 2003, I unplugged my television, put it in a garage and with that I was done watching programmed TV.

    We had some great times together. Saturday morning cartoons, the Thunderbirds, the Flip Wilson Show, the introduction of MTV, Michael Jackson's moonwalk, the Eddie Murphy era of Saturday Night Live, the Cosby Show.

    By the time we got to the 1990s and 2000s, our relationship had lost that loving feeling. With a few exceptions, like West Wing, the Daily Show or Space Ghost, I didn't really have any shows that constituted Must-See-TV.

    It wasn't just the state of television--chair-throwing reality shows and yelling, lying political shows like FOX News, but the sound of television began to annoy me and I couldn't just sit and watch whatever was on as I had done since I was a kid.

    Instead of a whole meal of television. I started going a la carte.

    The incident that ended the fun of TV for me, was the mundanely grim end of a reality show that I had been watching unfold on television since the 70s.

    Tuesday, November 25, 2003 Posted: 3:35 PM EST (2035 GMT)

    Michael Jackson surrenders

    SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Michael Jackson was booked on suspicion of child molestation Thursday, posted a $3 million bond and released in less than an hour. The pop star flashed the peace sign, waved and blew kisses to cameras as he left the Santa Barbara County jail.

    That was it. I was done. TV wasn't fun or interesting anymore watching that arrest on television.

    It turns out other people, for reasons that had nothing at all to do with Michael Jackson, had unplugged their TVs, never to return.

    Neilsen has just started to seriously track us, the so-called "Zero TV" people.

    For the first time, TV ratings giant Nielsen took a close look at this category of viewer in its quarterly video report released in March. It plans to measure their viewing of new TV shows starting this fall, with an eye toward incorporating the results in the formula used to calculate ad rates....

    The Zero TV segment is increasingly important, because the number of people signing up for traditional TV service has slowed to a standstill in the U.S.

    Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That is tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created last year. While it's still 100.4 million homes, or 84.7 percent of all households, it's down from the peak of 87.3 percent in early 2010.

    Nielsen's study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good. While three-quarters actually have a physical TV set, only 18 percent are interested in hooking it up through a traditional pay TV subscription.

    I don't feel like I am missing anything. When I hear that Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O'Donnell has a must-see segment, I can watch it online.

    In fact, all my weird tastes that no single network could satisfy with programming, I can find online--Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Star Wars Clone Wars, Boardwalk Empire, Alphas on SyFy (now sadly ended), Sherlock, Misfits, the Key and Peele Show.

    Like an increasing amount of people, I use the internet as my TiVO and watch shows the day after they have broadcast on television or cable.

    Cynthia Phelps is typical of this new kind of watcher.

    For Phelps, it's less about saving money than choice. She says she'd rather spend her time productively and not get "sucked into" shows she'll regret later.

    "I don't want someone else dictating the media I get every day," she says. "I want to be in charge of it. When I have a TV, I'm less in control of that."

    I am curious about the full implications of this trend.

    Right now, the rationale for the FOX News business model and the surplus of reality shows like Real Housewives of Fill-in-the-Blank is that they deliver more eyeballs to the TV than their competitors.

    How will popular and political television programming change in the years to come, when Zero TVers become a majority, instead of the minority they are today?

    President Obama spoke with Charlie Rose in an wide-ranging interview discussing Syria, Iran, security and surveillance that will air tonight. The video of the entire interview is below, followed by some transcribed excerpts about the National Security Agency. The NSA discussion begins at 26:41.

    If you set aside the politics of the Edward Snowden case, which is a really tough thing to do at a place like Daily Kos, what Snowden did is a run-of-the-mill violation of a non-disclosure agreement.

    In December of 2010, a former CIA officer named Jeffrey Alexander Sterling was charged in a 10-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury--charges that mostly focused on violating his NDA.

    The indictment charges Sterling with six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, and one count each of unlawful retention of national defense information, mail fraud, unauthorized conveyance of government property and obstruction of justice.
    Minus the obstruction of justice, this sounds like Snowden's story.
    According to the indictment, Sterling was employed by the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002.  From November 1998 through May 2000, he was assigned to a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries, including Country A. During that same time frame, he was also the operations officer assigned to handle a human asset associated with that program.  According to the indictment, Sterling was reassigned in May 2000, at which time he was no longer authorized to receive or possess classified documents concerning the program or the individual.

    In connection with his employment, the indictment alleges that Sterling, who is a lawyer, signed various security, secrecy and non-disclosure agreements in which he agreed never to disclose classified information to unauthorized persons, acknowledged that classified information was the property of the CIA, and also acknowledged that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information could constitute a criminal offense. According to the indictment, these agreements also set forth the proper procedures to follow if Sterling had concerns that the CIA had engaged in any "unlawful or improper" conduct that implicated classified information.  These procedures permit such concerns to be addressed while still protecting the classified nature of the information.  The media, according to the indictment, was not an authorized party to receive such classified information under such circumstances.

    The indictment alleges that Sterling, in retaliation for the CIA’s refusal to settle on terms favorable to him in the civil and administrative claims he was pursuing against the CIA, engaged in a scheme to disclose information concerning the classified operational program and the human asset – first, in connection with a possible newspaper story to be written by an author employed by a national newspaper in early 2003 and, later, in connection with a book published by the author in January 2006.

    "The indictment unsealed today alleges that Jeffrey Sterling violated his oath to protect classified information and then obstructed an investigation into his actions. Through his alleged actions, Sterling placed at risk our national security and the life of an individual working on a classified mission," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "Those who violate the law, and the trust placed in them by the U.S. government to keep our national security information secure, must be held accountable."

    "Our national security requires that sensitive information be protected," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "The law does not allow one person to unilaterally decide to disclose that information to someone not cleared to receive it. Those who handle classified information know the law and must be held accountable when they break it."

    I'm not sure what motivates a guy like Edward Snowden to do intelligence-gathering in the first place, since he seems to have a problem with U.S. intelligence-gathering both foreign and domestic, but whatever his motivations to listen in on people in the first place, he did knowingly sign an agreement and then, like Sterling, "violated his oath to protect classified information."

    Snowden knew the potential consequences for that choice, including the possibility of facing criminal charges, and he's now fleeing the consequences of that choice.

    This report originally came from Univision and it was shared with the Journal.

    Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has declared Edward Snowden's special travel document to be invalid because he doesn't want WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to look like he's "running the show." Correa declared Snowden's travel pass, issued after the U.S. revoked his passport, was unauthorized, The Wall Street Journal's José de Córdoba and Jeanne Whalen report.

    The United States, which has been widely-reported as having absolutely no leverage with Ecuador in shaping whether or not Snowden will be extradited to Ecuador, actually had a hand in the sudden invalidation of Snowden's travel document.

    The ambassador to the U.S., Nathalie Cely, wrote to Correa's spokesman, "I suggest talking to Assange to better control the communications. From outside, [Assange] appears to be running the show."

    Shortly after this exchange, Assange issued an apology to the Ecuadoran goverment.

    According to the Journal, Assange wrote Ecuador's government on Monday to say he hoped he hadn't embarrassed them, apologizing "if we have unwittingly causing Ecuador discomfort in the Snowden matter." (He also held a conference call with reporters that day.) It seems it didn't work.[...]

    By Thursday, Correa said in a press conference, "What is the validity of a safe conduct pass issued by a consul in London for someone to leave from Hong Kong to Moscow? None."

    UPDATE: Univision is now reporting that President Correa has been caught in a lie regarding granting Edward Snowden a travel pass.

    A "safe pass" allowing NSA leaker Edward Snowden's travel to Ecuador to seek political asylum was reportedly reviewed and approved by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, according to Univision news. This is after Correa's government distanced itself from the Snowden affair today and declared the pass invalid.

    The pass, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by Univision, is dated June 22 and asks authorities in other nations to allow Snowden safe passage to Ecuador as a political refugee. That's also the date that U.S. officials revoked Snowden's American passport, effectively halting his international travel.[...]

    In an ironic twist, Univision used metadata attached to an electronic copy of the safe pass to verify that it was composed at the work computer of Javier Mendoza, the Ecuadorian deputy consul in London (see photo above). Mendoza has acted as an intermediary for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden in connection with sexual assault allegations, but maintains that U.S. authorities are hunting him for Wikileaks' political activities.

    Metadata also showed that the Snowden pass was last edited, for 48 minutes, by the consul in London, Fidel Narvaez.

    Ecuadorian Press Secretary Betty Tola did not directly address the pass' authenticity but told Univision today that "any document in this regard is not valid and is the sole responsibility of the person who has issued [it]," suggesting that the London consulate might have acted alone in issuing it.[...]

    After the pass was revealed publicly, sources tell Univision, Correa instructed his staff to deny any role in its creation. "The official position is that the Ecuadorian government has NOT authorized any pass for anybody," those instructions read. "Any document that exists about has no validity."

    Ecuador is not alone in being upset about Assange's management of the Edward Snowden affair. Lonnie Snowden, Edward Snowden's father, told "Today," he's not too happy about it either.

    Lonnie Snowden has not spoken to his son since April, but he fears that Edward may be manipulated by WikiLeaks handlers and would like to get in touch with him.

    “I don't want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him,” Lonnie Snowden said. “I think WikiLeaks, if you've looked at past history, you know, their focus isn't necessarily the Constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible.”

    Nobody knows how the Snowden affair will ultimately play out, but so far his itenerary has not gone smoothly as planned.

    Snowden thought he could stay in Hong Kong indefinitely but one phone call from Beijing meant he had to go, even though he had been convinced it was a autonomous beacon of democracy.

    Apparently no one advised him that his passport might be revoked and that would certainly impair his travel plans.

    Currently Snowden is reportedly living in a Russian airport with a revoked U.S. passport while Cuba and Venezuela appear to be his best travel options--if he can get out of the airport and into another country without a U.S. passport.

    Russian invitation

    While Snowden is there maybe he can accept the Russian Parliament's invitation to share what he knows about U.S. intelligence-gathering.

    "We invite Edward Snowden to work with us and hope that as soon as he settles his legal status, he will collaborate with our working group and provide us with proof of U.S. intelligence agencies' access to the servers of Internet firms," Russian Sen. Ruslan Gattarov said Thursday.

    Russia's upper house of parliament decided Wednesday to establish a working group to investigate Snowden's claims, RIA Novosti reported.[...]

    Gattarov, appointed to lead the group, told RIA Novosti it would draw legislators, diplomats, prosecutors and communications officials as members. He said preliminary results should be available in October.

  • 06/28/13--18:30: R.I.P. AltaVista (chan 4836812)
  • We met at work, AltaVista and I.

    It was so long ago, I can't remember who introduced us, but once we met we were inseparable.  

    Back then, when the internet was still new and bubbling, other people bragged that Internet Explorer or Netscape were the best. Some found everything they needed with America Online. But I was all about AltaVista.

    You never forget your first search engine.

    I got the news today--that after July 8, AltaVista will be gone. Never to be updated.

    A Eulogy For AltaVista, The Google Of Its Time

    The Amazing AltaVista

    You appeared on the search engine scene in December 1995. You made us go “woah” when you arrived. You did that by indexing around 20 million web pages, at a time when indexing 2 million web pages was considered to be big.

    Today, of course, pages get indexed in the billions, the tens of billions or more. But in 1995, 20 million was huge. Existing search engines like Lycos, Excite & InfoSeek (to name only a few) didn’t quite know what hit them. With so many pages, you seemed to find stuff they and others didn’t.

    As a result, you were a darling of reviews and word-of-mouth praise. You grew in popularity. In fact, I’d say you were the Google of your time, but it would be more accurate to say Google was the AltaVista of its time. That’s because Google didn’t even exist when you were ascendant. That’s also because you help paved some of the way for Google.
    In the fall of 1995, [Digital Equipment Corporation] decided to move AltaVista beyond the labs and offer it as a public service on the web, to highlight DEC's internet businesses. The company tested the search engine internally for two months, allowing 10,000 employees to put the system through its paces.

    On December 15th, 1995, less than six months after the start of the project, AltaVista opened its virtual doors to the public, with an index of 16 million documents. It was an immediate hit -- more than 300,000 searchers used the engine on its first day. Nine months later, AltaVista was handling 19 million requests per day.

    I have since settled down with Google, and I'll admit it is a much stormier relationship. Google can be intrusive, possessive and needy, unless you make it clear that you don't want to sign on to all of that.

    Maybe that's why I am wistful about AltaVista and I, and went back there for old time sake's today. Because AltaVista represents a long gone moment of boundless internet optimism, a golden era that only promised endless job growth, rising stocks and a united global village.

    If you want to go back there, you still can right here.

    After July 8, you'll need to Google it.

    On Friday, Ecuadorian President Rafael President Correa received a call from Vice President Biden about granting asylum status to classified data leaker Edward Snowden.

    He said he had told the US vice-president: "Mr vice-president, thanks for calling. We hold the United States in high regard. We did not seek to be in this situation. Do not get the idea that we are anti-American, as some ill-spirited media outlets are doing."

    If Mr Snowden ever came to "Ecuadoran soil" with his request, he added, "the first people whose opinion we will seek is that of the United States".

    The Ecuadorian president, a leftist economist who received a doctorate in the US, denied he was seeking to disrupt relations and said he had "lived the happiest days of my life" in the US.

    President Correa, addressed his nation about the conversation and did not let up one iota in his respectful-of-your-face description of how Ecuador will weigh Snowden's asylum request.

    "We have to act very carefully but with courage, without contradicting our principles but with a lot of care, responsibility and respect of course towards the U.S. but also respect for the truth," Correa said.

    Ouch. Biden was all 'please don't grant asylum' and then Correa was all 'we have to act with a lot of respect of course towards the U.S.' Things are getting hot while Correa rubs the U.S. face in it.

    Then Correa again reiterated to the nation exactly where the United States could shove their free trade agreements with Ecuador.

    "We need to be very realistic. We use the U.S. currency. We are extremely vulnerable. We shouldn't make any false assumptions," Correa said.

    U.S. did you hear that? Somebody got told.

    Correa did not let up and laid out exactly how this whole thing is going to go and exactly whose interests would be considered first and foremost.

    Correa said that the first ones to be consulted "would be the U.S. as we did in the Assange case with England." He was referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who's been residing in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for almost a year.

    Meanwhile Monday is just around the corner.

    The most likely casualty of sheltering Mr. Snowden would be the trade preferences, which have been in place since the early 1990s. Originally designed for several Andean nations, Ecuador is the last remaining recipient. But the preferences, which applied to about $429 million in non-oil exports last year, expire at the end of July unless they are renewed by Congress.[...]

    Ecuador has begun its own campaign to keep the preferences, including a Web site called Keep Trade Going, that urges Americans to contact their legislators to ask them to vote in favor of the pact.[...]

    At the same time, Ecuador has staked out a fallback position, petitioning to include roses, frozen broccoli and canned artichokes in a separate trade program, the Generalized System of Preferences.* That decision is controlled by the White House, so Ecuador is essentially asking President Obama’s help in getting around opposition in Congress.

    Mr. Obama must decide by Monday whether he will include those items — a move that becomes increasingly thorny as the standoff over Mr. Snowden continues.

    *The Generalized System of Preferences, exists to boost the economies of developing nations. "President Barack Obama announced Thursday the suspension of [The Generalized System of Preferences] for Bangladesh because of concerns over labor rights and worker safety that intensified after hundreds died there in the global garment industry's worst accident."

    Edward Snowden just had another wrench thrown into his travel plans.

    USA Today reports that if Edward Snowden wants to receive asylum from Russia, he has to stop leaking U.S. secrets, something that he and Julian Assange vowed he would keep doing.

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin says that National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden will have to stop leaking U.S. secrets if he wants to get asylum in Russia.

    "There is one condition if he wants to remain here: he must stop his work aimed at damaging our American partners. As odd as it may sound from me," Putin told a news conference in Moscow, reported RT television network.

    (Reuters) - Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden broke his silence on Monday for the first time since fleeing to Moscow to say he remains free to make new disclosures about U.S. spying activity.

    In a letter to Ecuador seen by Reuters, Snowden said the United States was illegally persecuting him for revealing its electronic surveillance program, PRISM, but made it clear he did not intend to be muzzled.

    "I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest," he said in an undated letter in Spanish sent to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

    "No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world. If any of those days ahead realize a contribution to the common good, the world will have the principles of Ecuador to thank."

    Snowden's intervention came after he had applied for political asylum in Russia. President Vladimir Putin had earlier said he was not welcome unless he stopped harming U.S. interests.

    Believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow'S Sheremetyevo airport, Snowden poured scorn on the U.S. government.

    "While the public has cried out support of my shining a light on this secret system of injustice, the Government of the United States of America responded with an extrajudicial man-hunt costing me my family, my freedom to travel, and my right to live peacefully without fear of illegal aggression," he wrote.

    Illegal aggression?

    This is coming from Edward Snowden, who fabricated digital keys to gain unauthorized access to classified data, then leaked them in violation of an oath that he made with the full knowledge that violating that oath could result in criminal charges.

    According to WikiLeaks, classified data leaker Edward Snowden has sought asylum in 21 countries.

    Here are the latest developments on those requests.

    Russian news agencies Tuesday quoted President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Snowden withdrew his request when he learned about the terms Moscow has set out. Putin said on Monday that Russia is ready to shelter Snowden as long as he stops leaking U.S. secrets.

    At the same time, Putin said he had no plans to turn over Snowden to the United States.

    Several of the other countries where the WikiLeaks says Snowden has applied for asylum have said he cannot apply from abroad. Officials in Germany, Norway, Austria, Poland, Finland and Switzerland all said he must make his request on their soil.

    WikiLeaks said requests have also been made to Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela [Ed. Note: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro denied receiving a request for asylum from Snowden.]

    Brazil and India are currently the only countries reported to have received and formally rejected Snowden's asylum plea.

    While the ministry [of India] did not state the reason for the rejection however, it reportedly isn’t based on the ethics of snooping and spying but on the fact that Snowden doesn’t have valid travel documents, reported CNN-IBN.

    When Snowden had that travel snag in Hong Kong, he was able to get around it when he received a travel pass from Ecuador. He will not likely be able to do that again, as Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, reportedly did not approve of the first pass being issued and is not likely to assist Snowden anymore unless he can get on Ecuadorian soil.

    So Snowden will continue to stay in a Russian airport, without a U.S. passport, as a growing list of countries reject his bid for asylum and the United States urges him to return home.

    “You’ve heard Mr. Assange say earlier that he’s sort of marooned in Russia.  That’s not true,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell Monday. Saying the US is prepared to issue Snowden “one-way travel documents,” Mr. Ventrell added, “He’s still a US citizen. He still enjoys the rights of his US citizenship, which include the right to a free and fair trial for the crimes he’s been accused of.”

    UPDATE: The Guardian UK reports that Snowden has applied to 21 countries for asylum and has been rejected or dismissed by all but two, Bolivia and Venezuela.

    Meanwhile Snowden reportedly remains unbowed.

    Ninety-nine percent of Android phones contain a "master key" flaw that allows hackers to access all apps inside the phone, according to Jeff Forristal, CTO of Bluebox Security.

    The flaw leaves Android phones massively vulnerable to malware, botnets and computer fraud, he claims in a blog post:

    The implications are huge!

    ... Installation of a Trojan application from the device manufacturer can grant the application full access to Android system and all applications (and their data) currently installed. The application then not only has the ability to read arbitrary application data on the device (email, SMS messages, documents, etc.), retrieve all stored account & service passwords, it can essentially take over the normal functioning of the phone and control any function thereof (make arbitrary phone calls, send arbitrary SMS messages, turn on the camera, and record calls).

    Google was alerted to the flaw in February, Forristal told the Black Hat USA conference for internet security experts.[...]

    The flaw has existed since 2009, according to Endgadget.

    I wanted to post this revelation now before I book my flight to Hong Kong and live out my days as a hero for revealing this.

    I have also sent emails of this revelation to others that I trust, so in case something should happen to me, The Truth Is Out There.

    This is not about me.

    True, I could have just passed this along undramatically and anonymously to WikiLeaks and the information would be out there.

    But I wanted you and the world to know that I selflessly am revealing this and am unbowed.

    Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.

    It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.

    I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: "Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring."

    Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.

    That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.

    Since that time, the government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression. The United States Government has placed me on no-fly lists. It demanded Hong Kong return me outside of the framework of its laws, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement – the Law of Nations. It has threatened with sanctions countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system. It has even taken the unprecedented step of ordering military allies to ground a Latin American president’s plane in search for a political refugee. These dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.

    Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.

    I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.

    This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.

    If you have any questions, I will answer what I can.

    Thank you.

    There are no signs that fugitive data leaker Edward Snowden will be boarding a flight to any of his Latin American asylum destinations anytime soon.

    'No invitation'

    Asked what Mr Snowden's future was, the Russian president said: "How should I know? It's his life."

    "He came to our territory without invitation. And we weren't his final destination... But the moment he was in the air... our American partners, in fact, blocked his further flight," he said.

    "They have spooked all the other countries, nobody wants to take him and in that way, in fact, they have themselves blocked him on our territory."[...]

    The American has sent requests for political asylum to at least 21 countries, most of which have turned down his request. However, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have indicated they could take him in.

    But he is unable to leave the transit zone without asylum documents, a valid passport or a Russian visa - he reportedly has none of these.

    And some European countries are likely to close their airspace to any plane suspected of carrying the fugitive.

    At a news conference on Friday, Mr Snowden said he was seeking temporary asylum in Russia before he could safely travel to Latin America. However, Moscow officials say they have so far received no such request.
    Putin hopes Snowden will leave Russia soon

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that NSA leaker Edward Snowden would leave the country at the "earliest opportunity," reports.

    "As soon as there is an opportunity for him to move elsewhere, I hope he will do that. He is familiar with the conditions of granting political asylum, and judging by the latest statements, is shifting his position. The situation is not clear now," Putin said, according to the Russian news site.

    Putin's remarks indicated that it is increasingly unlikely that Russia will offer political asylum to the 30-year-old former defense contractor.

    Here we go again.

    MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jurors were selected Monday in the case of a 76-year-old white man charged with gunning down a 13-year-old black boy last year on a Milwaukee sidewalk over a theft allegation.[...]

    Spooner suspected Simmons of breaking into his Milwaukee home and stealing guns, prosecutors said. Spooner confronted the teen on the sidewalk two days after the weapons came up missing and demanded that he return them. When Simmons denied stealing anything, Spooner shot him in the chest from five feet away as the teen's mother watched, according to the criminal complaint.

    Spooner then fired a second shot as Simmons tried to run away, the complaint said. Police recovered a weapon and two spent bullet casings.

    An autopsy found that Simmons, who was unarmed, suffered a gunshot wound to his torso. The bullet exited his back.[...]

    Florida has a stand-your-ground law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight. Wisconsin does not, but it does have a so-called castle doctrine. That law creates a presumption of legal immunity for someone who kills or injures a person breaking into his or her home, vehicle or workplace. The measure requires a judge to presume that the use of deadly force was necessary.

    But that isn't likely to be relevant in the Milwaukee shooting since it happened outside.

  • 07/16/13--10:05: Zimmerman Juror Book Deal Nixed (chan 4836812)
  • Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management LLC:

    “After careful consideration regarding the proposed book project with Zimmerman Juror B37, I have decided to rescind my offer of representation in the exploration of a book based upon this case,” Martin said in an email at the time. [BuzzFeed]

    Juror B37:

     “I realize it was necessary for our jury to be sequestered in order to protest our verdict from unfair outside influence, but that isolation shielded me from the depth of pain that exists among the general public over every aspect of this case. The potential book was always intended to be a respectful observation of the trial from my and my husband’s perspectives solely and it was to be an observation that our ‘system’ of justice can get so complicated that it creates a conflict with our ‘spirit’ of justice. Now that I am returned to my family and to society in general, I have realized that the best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life as it was before I was called to sit on this jury.” [Uproxx]


    Re-reading her quote, I think Juror B37 mean to say "protect our verdict" rather than "protest our verdict."

    So how did a deal that appeared to have come to fruition less than 48 hours after the Zimmerman trial, come to an end less than 48 hours later?

    Thank Twitter warrior Cocky McSwagsalot.

    Cocky McSwagsalot was less than thrilled to hear about the deal and decided that something had to be done. She reached out to Sharlene Martin and eventually shared Martin's phone number, email address, and mailing location in an attempt to flood her with complaints.

    She threw together a petition, which rapidly garnered more than 1,000 signatures. Soon thereafter, both Martin and Juror B37 issued separate statements announcing that the book deal wouldn't come to fruition.


    We can also thank Juror B37 herself for being an obnoxious voice of the jurors for the Zimmerman trial:

    On Monday evening, Juror B37 went on CNN to defend the jury’s decision to find George Zimmerman not guilty.

    “I think both were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into,” she said. “I think they both could have walked away.”

    Not long after the interview aired, calls for Martin to drop the juror intensified. A petition by Genie Lauren circulated, asking Trayvon Martin supporters to not “allow this person to profit off of the injustice that they’ve served to the American public.”

    Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about the Trayvon Martin case in very personal terms at the NAACP convention today in Orlando, Florida:

    Holder recalled how his father talked to him years ago "about how as a young black man I should interact with the police, what to say, and how to conduct myself if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way I thought was unwarranted."

    Holder thought he wouldn't have to have the same conversation with his own son, but did, after Martin's death, he said. "Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15 year old son, like my dad did with me," he said.

    "This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy."

    Holder also recounted the times he had been stopped by police and had his vehicle searched, even though he was sure he wasn't speeding. One time, "I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to a catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C," Holder said. " I was at the time of that last incident a federal prosecutor."

    The transcript of his entire remarks are available here:

    In a letter dated July 23, Attorney General Eric Holder assured his counterpart in Russia, that there is no basis for the country to grant temporary asylum to Eric Snowden, since he will not be tortured or killed when he returns to the U.S.

    America's top prosecutor has promised Russian officials that the U.S. would not torture Edward Snowden, nor would it seek the death penalty for the former National Security Agency contractor should he be handed over to U.S. custody.

    "We… understand from press reports that Mr. Snowden has filed papers seeking temporary asylum in Russia on the grounds that if he were returned to the United States, he would be tortured and would face the death penalty," Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to his Russian counterparts today. "These claims are entirely without merit."

    As for the death penalty, Holder wrote that the espionage-related charges Snowden faces "do not carry that possibility, and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional death penalty-eligible crimes." Holder also wrote that torture is "unlawful in the United States."

    Holder said that Snowden would be provided all the protections the law provides, should he return to face the charges against him.

    "We believe that these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden's claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise," Holder said.

    Here is a link to the full text of Eric Holder's letter.

    After returning to the United States, Edward Snowden will face a minimum of 30 years in prison for theft of government property, "unauthorized communication of national defense information" and "willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person."

    While the U.S. isn't eager for any more classified information to be disclosed, there's little chance Snowden will be able to use what he has as a bargaining chip to negotiate his prosecution or extradition. That's because giving into threats would risk opening the door for others to take similar action in the future.

    The government must take the position: "We don't negotiate with extortionists," said Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Justice Department's criminal division and former secretary of homeland security. Chertoff said he can't recall a case in which the U.S. government has caved under this type of threat.

    "I'm betting that there is virtually nothing that Snowden could do or threaten to persuade the (U.S. government) not to prosecute," said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who was on the team that prosecuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Bush administration official who revealed the name of a CIA officer. Zeidenberg said doing so would send a damaging message from the U.S.: "If you are going to steal secrets, get the crown jewels; that way, the government will never dare to prosecute.

    "If the Obama administration responds with an even harsher hand against me, they can be assured that they'll soon find themselves facing an equally harsh public response," Snowden said in a June 17 online question-and-answer forum.[...]

    Mark Zaid, an attorney who has represented people charged with espionage, said these threats...are a form of graymail, a tactic in which defendants charged with spying try to force the government to drop the charges by threatening to expose U.S. secrets on the witness stand.

    Zaid said every time Snowden releases more documents it could create additional criminal charges. Zaid is not working on Snowden's defense and hasn't been contacted by the leaker. But if he were representing Snowden, Zaid said, "I'd tell him to shut up" and accept the marriage proposal from Russian spy Anna Chapman. On July 3, the attractive redhead who was swept up with nine other sleeper agents and deported from the U.S. in 2010 tweeted, "Snowden, will you marry me?"

    "The only thing really he's got now is either minimize the penalties going forward or work out some favorable resolution he's comfortable with somewhere in the world," Zaid said of Snowden.

    From the Guardian UK.

    Congress will hear testimony from critics of the National Security Agency's surveillance practices for the first time since the whistleblower Edward Snowden's explosive leaks were made public.[...]

    We have put together an ad hoc, bipartisan hearing on domestic surveillance in on the Capitol. We plan to have critics of the program come in and give their view – from the left and the right."

    [Rep. Alan] Grayson said the hearing had bipartisan support, and was backed by the Republican congressman Justin Amash, whose draft the amendment that was narrowly defeated. [On Wednesday, a vote in the House of Representatives that would have tried to curb the NSA's practice of mass collection of phone records of millions of Americans was narrowly defeated.]

    "Mr Amash has declared an interest in the hearing. There are several others who have a libertarian bent – largely the same people who represented the minority of Republicans who decided to vote in favour of the Amash amendment."

    The hearing will take place at the same time as a Senate hearing into the NSA's activities. That will feature Gen Alexander and possibly his deputy, Chris Inglis, as well as senior officials from the Department of Justice and FBI.

    The simultaneous timing of the hearings will lead to a notable juxtaposition between opponents and defenders of the government's surveillance activities.

    "Both Congress and the American people deserve to hear both sides of the story," Grayson said.

    Eighteen months after a police officer fatally shot an unarmed teenager in the bathroom of his home in the Bronx, the criminal case against the officer has collapsed, as a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges in the case, officials said on Thursday.

    The decision was met with shock from the district attorney in the Bronx, Robert T. Johnson, and it spurred calls for a federal civil rights investigation and an independent prosecutor. Later on Thursday, the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan said that it would review the evidence in the case to “determine whether there were any violations of the federal criminal civil rights laws.”

    Nonetheless, the grand jury decision roiled anger and racial tensions among supporters and relatives of the shooting victim, Ramarley Graham, 18.

    Those tensions had been largely calmed after the officer, Richard Haste, was initially indicted last year on manslaughter charges. But a judge dismissed the indictment in May, saying prosecutors had improperly precluded the grand jury from considering Officer Haste’s claim that he believed Mr. Graham was armed, based on what he had heard fellow officers say over a police radio. Mr. Graham was black; the officer is white.

    The judge’s ruling allowed prosecutors to present the case anew to a grand jury. On Tuesday, Officer Haste testified before the panel, telling grand jurors that he had repeatedly directed Mr. Graham to “show me your hands,” according to the officer’s lawyer, Stuart London.

    Mr. London acknowledged that “it was surprising” for a grand jury in the Bronx to vote against prosecuting an officer after such a shooting. “The grand jury should be commended for the courage they had in the face of such a tragedy to keep an open mind and allow my client to tell his side of the story,” he said.

    District Attorney Johnson said: “We are surprised and shocked by the grand jury’s finding of no criminal liability in the death of Ramarley Graham. We are saddened for the family of the deceased young man and still believe that the court’s dismissal of the original indictment was overly cautious.”

    Seriously America, what is up with your relentless war on unarmed black men? When did the memo go out that it was okay to act out on historic fear of black men with deadly force?

  • 08/12/13--10:30: Party Pragmatists Revolt (chan 4836812)
  • Midway between the 2012 and 2014 election campaigns, moderate Republican conservatives are beginning to foment a revolt of their own — a backlash to anti-spending tea party shrillness as budget cuts begin to significantly shrink defense and domestic programs.

    Tea party forces may have dominated the House GOP's approach to the budget so far, but pragmatists in the party have served notice they won't stand idly by for indiscriminate spending cuts to politically popular community development grants, education programs and even Amtrak.

    Voting in the spring for the tea party budget developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate last year, was one thing. But as long as a Democrat occupies the White House, Ryan's budget is little more than a nonbinding wish list — cutting Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps and slashing budgets for domestic agencies funded annually through appropriations bills.[...]

    [Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky] called for abandoning the Ryan budget and starting bipartisan negotiations that would provide appropriators with "a realistic spending level to fund the government in a responsible — and attainable — way."

    "Attainable" is code for something that can pass the Senate and get signed by President Barack Obama. That's rarely a recipe for tea party fun.[...]

    "What Boehner has done successfully in the past, is you have to write [legislation] to levels that actually get support in the Senate and get some Democrats in the House," said former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio.

    Some conservatives among the House's 233 Republicans may "then squeal ...," LaTourette said, "but if they're not going to supply the votes to get to 218 in a way that makes everybody in the (GOP) conference comfortable, then that's the strategy that's left to them. And I think that's probably where we're headed."

    The important revelations here are that something called "moderate Republicans" exists, that the tea party caucus has overplayed their hand one too many times, that nobody cares if they squeal and most importantly, that they can no longer significantly influence legislation that has any hopes of passing in the foreseeable future.

    I keep calling Poitras the Keyser Soze of the story, because she’s at once completely invisible and yet ubiquitous,” Greenwald [said], referring to the character in “The Usual Suspects” played by Kevin Spacey, a mastermind masquerading as a nobody, told Maass.

    In a New York Times piece written by investigative reporter Peter Maass, who is working on a book about surveillance and privacy, he spoke with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and through encrypted email, Edward Snowden.

    Throughout the feature Laura Poitras emerges not only as a central figure in making the Snowden revelations have the maximum global impact but she, along with Glenn Greenwald are profiled as a new model of citizen journalists operating outside the norms of traditional media.

    Poitras and Greenwald are an especially dramatic example of what outsider reporting looks like in 2013. They do not work in a newsroom, and they personally want to be in control of what gets published and when. When The Guardian didn’t move as quickly as they wanted with the first article on Verizon, Greenwald discussed taking it elsewhere, sending an encrypted draft to a colleague at another publication. He also considered creating a Web site on which they would publish everything, which he planned to call NSADisclosures. In the end, The Guardian moved ahead with their articles. But Poitras and Greenwald have created their own publishing network as well, placing articles with other outlets in Germany and Brazil and planning more for the future. They have not shared the full set of documents with anyone.

    “We are in partnership with news organizations, but we feel our primary responsibility is to the risk the source took and to the public interest of the information he has provided,” Poitras said. “Further down on the list would be any particular news organization.”

    Other revelations:

    The former government contractor told Maass that he believes Poitras and Greenwald were "annoyed" after discovering how young he is when the three met in June in Hong Kong.

    "I think they were annoyed that I was younger than they expected, and I was annoyed they had arrived too early, which complicated the initial verification. As soon as we were behind close doors, however, I think everyone was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides. I was particularly impressed by Glenn’s ability to operate without sleep for days at a time."
    When Greenwald began conversing with Snowden in April after he had met with Poitras in New York and installed encryption software on his computer. (Poitras began speaking with Snowden in January, and he got a job as a NSA contractor for Booz Allen in March.)

    At that point, Maas writes, their work "was organized like an intelligence operation, with Poitras as the mastermind."

    Greenwald said of Poitras: "None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.”

    Poitras wouldn’t say when Snowden began sending her documents, but she initially received many more than Greenwald (who received about 20).

    Read more:

    Maass has written a fascinating piece and you can check it out here.

    The official trailer for Dreamwork's "The Fifth Estate" starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange.

    From the Daily Beast.

    Julian Assange's Political Party Implodes

    Julian Assange may have blown his best chance to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy and return home to Australia as a free man.

    The founder of WikiLeaks, who has been holed up in the Ecuador's diplomatic mission in London for over a year, is now facing another obstacle to freedom. Assange had founded the WikiLeaks Party in his native Australia in an attempt to win election to the Australian Senate; which he believes would make it more difficult for him to be extradited to Sweden where he faces sexual-assault charges. However, the party just split up in turmoil earlier this week after members of its national council discovered that Assange and his inner circle had been ignoring them and making major decisions on their own.

    Under the system of proportional representation used for the Australian Senate, voters in each state can either rank specific candidates or let their first choice party do so. Considering that there are often over 50 people on the ballot, voters to tend just defer to their party. The result is frenzied negotiations between small parties and large parties to maximize their representation and avoid wasted votes.

    The Wikileaks Party's national council thought it had agreed to a plan where the party would be making deals to work closely with the Australian Green Party and other left-of-center groups. Then they discovered that Assange instead had made deals with a far-right party as well as one that is militantly pro-gun. The result was a number of party members quit, including Leslie Cannold, Assange’s No. 2 in the party, and Daniel Mathews, one of his close friends from college, leaving the party divided two weeks before the election.

    In an article published in the Guardian on Wednesday, Mathews uses tough language to describe the personality of Assange, who he still admires, will vote for, and considers a friend. He describes Assange as “not ... suited to a party with democratic national-council oversight” and someone who “really ought not to have set up a party with internal democracy.”

    In other news, Julian Assange gives a thumbs down to "The Fifth Estate."

    In an interview with Yahoo! Movies on Tuesday (before we were aware of WikiLeaks's aforementioned disapproving tweet), Condon pointed out that Cumberbatch was in touch with whistle blower Assange during much of the making of "The Fifth Estate.""Ultimately the most direct communication we had was through Benedict, who was in touch with [Assange] by e-mail," Condon said. "[Assange] refused to see him, sadly, but there was a conversation that started there and went on for most of while we were shooting the movie, and then I think has continued."

    But the director also acknowledged Assange's vocal dissent. "[Assange] did issue certain proclamations even as we started shooting; he called it 'The anti-WikLeaks movie,' which it couldn't be further from the truth," Condon said. "It's a movie that does present the sides of many issues, the different sides, but when it comes to WikiLeaks, I think it's mostly a celebration of the incredible, sort of noble ideas behind it, and the idealism that it reflected, especially in its early days."

    Bill Condon: 'It is about having a balance' (Photo: Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images)
    Condon insists that the film offers a fair picture of Assange's organization that publicly posted classified documents, and that the dramatized version of real events illustrates WikiLeaks's global impact. "Assange tends to conflate any conversation about himself with conversation of WikiLeaks, but we really tried every day, and its been part of developing the movie and also putting it together in the editing room, this I think is a movie that asks the questions but doesn't provide the answers," the director said.

    "It is about having a balance," he said, also pointing to the complex nature of a similar case in the news: CIA operative Edward Snowden, who leaked details of several top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. "It's very hard to come down cleanly on one side or the other because they are so complicated. And I think Assange himself might be surprised at that. This is in no way to my mind an attack on him. And certainly Benedict has no interest in playing something that wasn't going to try to, you know ... He's a great actor, and he saw his job as trying to get inside the mind and soul of this person."

    CNN) -- An 8-year-old boy intentionally shot and killed his [87]-year-old caregiver on Thursday evening after playing a violent video game, authorities say.

    Marie Smothers, 90, was pronounced dead at the scene with a gunshot wound to the head in a mobile home park in Slaughter, Louisiana, the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's Department said in a statement. Slaughter is about 20 miles north of Baton Rouge.

    Although the boy initially told investigators that he accidentally shot the woman while playing with a firearm, the probe led authorities to believe he "intentionally shot Mrs. Smothers in the back of the head as she sat in her living room watching television," the statement said.

    The boy won't face charges. Under Louisiana law, a child under 10 is exempt from criminal responsibility.[...]

    "Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Play Station III 'Grand Theft Auto IV', a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging" violence and awards points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred."

    "We have a child who does not know the impact of the consequences of the act he committed," Sclynski Legier, a lawyer, told CNN affiliate WAFB. "He truly doesn't understand that."

    He is now with his parents.

    Here are some facts about children and gun safety. Hat tip to LilithGardener.

    One-third of all families in America that have children also have guns, and more than 40 percent of them don't keep their guns locked up. Children younger than eight can't tell the difference between a real gun and a toy, and 3-year-olds are strong enough to pull the trigger on a real gun. Children and teens commit more than half of all unintentional shootings.

    Here are some things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.

    Teach children that they shouldn't touch guns and that if they see a gun, to leave it alone and tell an adult.

    If your children play at another home, talk to the parents about gun safety.

    Treat every gun as if it were loaded.

    Always store guns unloaded.

    Lock guns in a rack or safe, and hide the keys or combination.

    Store ammunition away from guns and keep it locked.

    Don't keep guns in your home if someone in your family has a mental illness, severe depression, or potential for violence.

    U.S. Naval Safety Center

    Although no study has examined whether or not violent video games cause real world violence, here is what what some behavioral studies have revealed.

    One of the most recent studies, conducted in 2006 at the Indiana University School of Medicine, went right to the source. Researchers scanned the brains of 44 kids immediately after they played video games. Half of the kids played "Need for Speed: Underground," an action racing game that doesn't have a violent component. The other half played "Medal of Honor: Frontline," an action game that includes violent first-person shooter activity (the game revolves around the player's point of view). The brain scans of the kids who played the violent game showed increased activity in the amygdala, which stimulates emotions, and decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe, which regulates inhibition, self-control and concentration. These activity changes didn't show up on the brain scans of the kids playing "Need for Speed."[...]

    In science, correlation doesn't imply causation. A relationship between virtual aggression and real-life aggression isn't necessarily one of cause and effect. Maybe bullies in real life also enjoy being bullies in virtual life, so they play violent video games.

    To date, all lawsuits against video game companies for distributing violent content have been thrown out.
    Research clearly suggests that exposure to violent video games temporarily increases a person's hostility. A child or adult who plays a video game will be slightly more antagonistic and might even see his or her world as a more hostile place immediately after playing the game. However, research does not show a clear link between playing violent video games and real world violence.

    On the opening day of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, President Putin says in an interview that he does not rule out supporting the U.S. in military strikes on Syria, in response to the government's alleged use of chemical weapons on its citizens.

    Putin demands 'convincing' proof of Syria chemical attack

    MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin Wednesday suggested Russia could approve military strikes against the Syrian regime if the West presented watertight evidence of chemical weapons crimes but warned the use of force without UN approval would be an "aggression".

    In an interview with state-run Channel One television ahead of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg this week, Putin sought to adopt a more conciliatory position on the Syria crisis which had widened the rift between Russia and the West.

    Yet he still appeared unconvinced by US assertions that the Syrian regime was behind a chemical attack outside Damascus on August 21 that left hundreds dead and said the West had to present "convincing" evidence to the UN Security Council.

    Asked whether Russia would agree with US-led military strikes if it was proven that the Syrian regime had carried out the chemical attack, Putin replied: "I do not exclude that."

    George Zimmerman's wife filed for divorce Thursday evening, her lawyer confirmed, less than two months after the former Neighborhood Watch volunteer was acquitted of murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

    Shellie Zimmerman, 26, was not available for comment, but her attorney confirmed their marriage was over.

    "After much soul searching and recent disappointments, Shellie feels compelled to officially end her six-year marriage to George Michael Zimmerman," said attorney Kelly Sims.[...]

    The couple separated Aug. 13, according to her divorce filing, and Shellie Zimmerman wants a judge to award her custody of both dogs, Oso, 2-year-old, 120-pound Rottweiler and Leroy, an 8-year-old mixed breed.

    "The marriage between the parties is irretrievably broken," the pleading says.

    Shellie Zimmerman is asking for an "equitable distribution" of their assets, property and debts.

    She has no income but $12,729 in assets – mostly her 2009 Honda Accord – and $103,756 in debts – mostly school loans, an auto loan and credit card bills.

    Since they split, he has given her $4,300 from his legal defense fund, according to the affidavit.

    TMZ puts this development into context:

    Some people who believed in George Zimmerman may be pissed off to learn ... a chunk of the money he raised for his legal defense is now going to support his soon-to-be ex-wife ... TMZ has learned.[...]

    According to the solicitation on PayPal ... the fund is to be used "for George Zimmerman's ongoing living expenses, legal costs, and fees for this matter."

    Now it gets a little more complicated.  George Zimmerman's official legal defense website says, "Currently George and Shellie are renting a secure residence at a reasonable rate.  Their day-to-day living expenses are relatively modest as they want to preserve as many funds as possible for an aggressive defense."

    But here's the thing.  He won almost 2 months ago, and the site raised more than $300,000.  He may still owe money to his lawyers, but the case is over and it's a little weird the $4,300 a month is going to Shellie individually ... not the legal team.

    Read more:

    The Zimmerman Legal Defense fund has been a source of trouble for George and Shellie since it was opened on PayPal.

    On April 9, 2012 George Zimmerman launched the website and within weeks received more than $200,000 in donations to help pay for his mounting legal fees. But during his bond hearing Zimmerman's wife testified that the couple was nearly broke.

    Appearing via telephone due to fear for her life, she was asked by her husband's lawyer Mark O'Mara if they add any major financial assets and she said no. She repeated that claim under cross examination.

    In a later hearing, prosecutors presented surprise evidence that included at least four jailhouse phone conversations in which George and Shellie Zimmerman were apparently discussing tiny amounts of money, but where allegedly referring to some of the $200,000 into their PayPal account.

    At the time of the recordings, Zimmerman had just been recently arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old.

    The guilty plea came a day after George Zimmerman's attorneys revealed that they want the state of Florida to reimburse up to $300,000 in legal costs for their successful defense in the murder trial.
    On his website, “,” Zimmerman wrote “I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately my entire life.”

    The website contained a link to PayPal. Zimmerman wrote that “Any funds provided are used only for living expenses and legal defense, in lieu of my forced inability to maintain employment.”

    Shellie Zimmerman was charged with perjury in June 2012 after she lied to the court about the $135,000 accumulated from donors to her husband’s sad cause. At a bond hearing last year, Zimmerman told Judge Kenneth Lester that she and her husband had no money to help with his legal defense.

    The couple’s bank accounts showed that $74,000 was transferred from Mr. Zimmerman’s account to his wife’s during the five days before the bond hearing. Another almost $50,000 was transferred to Zimmerman’s sister’s account.

    Additionally, recorded jail phone calls reveal that the Zimmermans discussed the money transfers in coded language, in the days before the bond hearing. They also talked about transferring money to Zimmerman’s sister’s account and about removing money from a safety deposit box, according to an affidavit from the state attorney’s office.

    Meanwhile Shellie's soon-to-be ex-husband George Zimmerman appears to be heading nowhere fast.

    George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, was stopped for speeding for the second time this summer.

    Zimmerman was pulled over Tuesday morning in Lake Mary, Fla., and issued a $256 ticket for going 60 mph in a 45-mph zone. In July, he was pulled over in Dallas for speeding but was issued only a warning and let go. This time, he'll get 3 points on his license, unless he successfully contests the ticket or takes an online driver improvement course.

    "George Zimmerman is kind of like the Loch Ness Monster — anytime you get a glimpse of him, it's making international news," said officer Zach Hudson, a spokesman for the Lake Mary Police Department, which issued Zimmerman the ticket.

    From NPR Morning Edition

    Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said Friday that it's neither President Barack Obama's "desire nor his intention" to strike Syria without Congressional approval.

    Speaking on NPR's Morning Edition, Blinken said the president "has the authority to act, but it's neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him."

    Blinken also commented on what the proposed operation is and what it is not:

    [BLINKEN:] What this is is a very targeted, very focused, but we believe effective use of force to deal with the fact that chemical weapons were used, and to try to make sure that Assad doesn't use them again, or that it's more difficult for him to use them again if he tries.[...]

    BLINKEN: What it's not is boots-on-the-ground. What it's not is open-ended. What it's not is Iraq, Afghanistan, or even what we saw in Libya.

    Here is the new hostage-taking plan by Republicans to extort the United States government and overturn the result of a democratic election: House GOP will seek a one-year delay on Obamacare as exchange for not shutting down government.

    But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says this is all just a tea party show and that the GOP will "fold like hot cakes" by October 15.

    One veteran of the mid-1990s shutdowns, which also pitted a Democratic president against a Republican speaker, warned a temporary shutdown was increasingly likely.

    “It depends if wisdom trumps energy. It hasn’t thus far, has it?” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said, a dig at those who want to continue the campaign against Obamacare.

    Coburn, a freshman House member in the 1990s shutdowns, said it wouldn’t matter much until Oct. 15. That’s when the first paychecks for service members — including those on the front lines of Afghanistan — would not go out.

    “When you start getting into military pay, that’s serious. When the people defending this country can’t pay their house payments, things they need to do. . . . We’ll fold like hot cakes if they shut down. Republicans will,” Coburn predicted.

    UPDATE: Sen. Coburn and I spoke too soon as commenter Jacoby Jonze pointed out:

    GOP is going to pass a bill to pay military...if a shutdown happens.
    House bill would pay troops, delay 'Obamacare' 1 year

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the Senate will not pass any bill keeping the government open past Monday that would alter the health care law.

    I recommend that you rec Jacoby Jonze rec button rather than rec my wreck.


    The GOP in the House of Representatives are proving through their actions that the tea party wing could give a fig about government waste.

    Their current time and resource wasting budget negotiations have nothing to do with the budget and everything to do with enforcing their pet ideologies on the country while holding government services hostage.

    House Republicans have reportedly added language to a new government spending bill that limits contraceptive care for employers and insurers who find the care objectionable based on certain grounds.

    The provision was added to a new continuing resolution proposal introduced earlier on Saturday. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and a House leadership aide confirmed the added language to CNN.

    The provision allows insurers and employers to opt out of providing preventative care for when if they have moral or religious objections to that contraceptive care.

    And what is the explanation for adding this to a spending bill?

    “This is a big deal for the congressman,” Huelskamp’s spokesman, Paul Nelson, told CNN. “He has been pushing for (the conscience clause) since he entered Congress."

    Democrats point out that the added language is unnecessary and has nothing to do with the Congressional task of keeping government services running smoothly and paying the nation's bills.

    Democrats say the measure is unnecessary because the administration has granted exemptions to contraceptive coverage to religious nonprofit institutions. But advocates, such as Huelskamp, insist that all institutions should be able to opt out of any preventative coverage for women that they find objectionable.
    The House is expected to pass its version of a CR on Saturday night, but it faces almost certain failure in the Senate, which has objected to Republicans' attempt to use the government funding bill to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

    "Once again House Republicans have found a way to mount an ideological attack on women's health as the clock ticks down on a crisis they created," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement Saturday night. "This is part of the right-wing playbook that's going nowhere in the Senate. The truly unconscionable thing is that Republicans would try to rob women of access to health care while holding our economy hostage."

    I personally am sick to death of the Republican party right now.

    With their actions, they are basically saying that the outcome of all Democratic elections are non-binding and that all legislation can be undermined, overturned or indefinitely delayed until the ideological obsessions of a few representatives can be imposed on the entire country.

    The party that made a very big deal of reading the entire U.S. Constitution, manages to routinely ignore the letter and spirit of the Constitution--particularly the parts that require them to take their mandated responsibilities seriously and govern.

    For those of you who are equally sick of the high stakes game-playing and the really crappy theater (e.g. Ted Cruz) that is being paid for with our money, here is a dose of government-funded actors that are an antidote to the clowns in the House.

    Happy 44th Anniversary Sesame Street!

    The creator of Grand Theft Auto has warned there might be teething problems as its online version launches.

    Last week Rockstar North admitted it was facing "unanticipated" pressure because sales of GTA 5 had been stronger than expected.

    "We are working around the clock to buy and add more servers," its blog said.

    But it added that matters could be "more temperamental than such things usually are" because using so many computers introduced their own issues.

    Another underreported consequence of Obamacare: Full-time workers will voluntarily start working fewer hours and spend more time doing what they want to do, because they won't be locked on a job simply because their employer offers affordable healthcare. If all goes right it should create an entrepreneurial boom; Obamacare as job creator rather than job killer:

    From Business Insider:

    Millions Of Workers May Choose To Go Part-Time Once Obamacare Kicks In

    The perk that is usually offered only to full-time employees — affordable health care — will now be offered to part-time employees. As a result, millions of workers who are working full-time may choose to work part-time instead, University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan said in a recent paper published with the  National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Workers who choose to reduce their own hours may end up faring better financially by paying lower  premiums offered to part-time rs through government exchanges ra ther than working a few more hours and  purchasing health care through an employer, s aid Mulligan.

    "Moving from full-time employment to part-time employment will trigger generous assistance with health premiums and out-of-pocket expenses that can offset much of the income lost due to reduced work hours," said Mulligan.  Under the health-care reform, the cost of insurance will be subsidized depending on your income.

    In a leaked internal email  that was published in  The Washington Post , a Trader Joe exec wrote that one employee — a single mom with one child — who makes $18 per hour and works around 25 hours per week, currently pays $166.50 per month for her health-care plan purchased through the company. When the ACA plans kick in next year, this employee will be able to purchase an  "almost identical" plan for $69.59 per month, meaning she will save about $1,175 annually on health care.

    Mulligan said the reduced hours will allow workers to have more leisure time and lower work-related costs such as child-care, since working less enables part-timers to  spend more time with their children instead of paying for a nanny or day-care service.

  • 10/11/13--09:03: Release the Biden (chan 4836812)
  • Now we know that negotiations to end the Republican government shutdown have gone to the Next Level. The White House is going to Release the Biden.:

    President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to sit down with the Senate Republican Caucus Friday, the White House said. The meeting is slated to take place at 11:15 a.m. ET in the State Dining Room.

    When it comes to congressional negotiations, releasing the Biden is always a Big Effing Deal.

    Meanwhile this is what twit du jour and microscopic effing deal, Ted Cruz had to say about the Best Vice-President ever:

    "Now, Vice President Joe Biden -- you know the nice thing, you don't need a punch line," he said to laughter from the audience. "You just say his name and people laugh."

    "He said if anyone is attacking your home, just go outside with a double-barreled shotgun and fire both barrels in the air," Cruz said. "Which is very good advice, if it so happens you're being attacked by a flock of geese."

    Ted enjoy your limelight while it lasts but my advice is not to mess with Vice-President Biden.  Talk to A-Noun-a-Verb-and-9/11 Rudy Giuliani or failed Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan about messing with Vice-President Biden. It's how you get permanently defined, dismissed and done.

    On second thought, please proceed Ted.

    In the 1870s, two inventors Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell both independently designed devices that could transmit speech electrically (the telephone). Both men rushed their respective designs to the patent office within hours of each other, Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone first. Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell entered into a famous legal battle over the invention of the telephone, which Bell won.

    The telephone is still with us today and can be used in addition to the internet.

    For instance if you wanted to sign up for Obamacare, you can do it using the telephone. Here's the President of the United States walking you through the details of using legacy technology known as the Telephone.

    While the website will ultimately be the easiest way to buy insurance through the marketplace, it isn’t the only way.  And I want to emphasize this.  Even as we redouble our efforts to get the site working as well as it’s supposed to, we’re also redoubling our efforts to make sure you can still buy the same quality, affordable insurance plans available on the marketplace the old-fashioned way -- offline, either over the phone or in person.

    And, by the way, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of this who are more comfortable working on the phone anyway or in person.  So let me go through the specifics as to how you can do that if you’re having problems with the website or you just prefer dealing with a person.

    Yesterday, we updated the website’s home page to offer more information about the other avenues to enroll in affordable health care until the online option works for everybody.  So you’ll find information about how to talk to a specialist who can help you apply over the phone or to receive a downloadable application you can fill out yourself and mail in.

    We’ve also added more staff to the call centers where you can apply for insurance over the phone.  Those are already -- they've been working.  But a lot of people have decided first to go to the website.  But keep in mind, these call centers are already up and running.  And you can get your questions answered by real people, 24 hours a day, in 150 different languages.  The phone number for these call centers is 1-800-318-2596.  I want to repeat that -- 1-800-318-2596.  Wait times have averaged less than one minute so far on the call centers, although I admit that the wait times probably might go up a little bit now that I've read the number out loud on national television.

    The telephone. A great invention that is still in use today.

    Here is the phone number 1-800-318-2596.

    November 28, 2013 is turning out to be a pretty good Thanksgiving with genuine reasons to be grateful.

    Today we learned that Marissa Alexander, Mother Convicted For Warning Shot, Released From Jail and here is a brief diary about another reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving.

    The Pizza Hut general manager who was fired this month because of his unwillingness to force employees to work on Thanksgiving will be offered his job back, the company told The Huffington Post Thursday.[...]

    In an emailed statement, Pizza Hut said the situation “could and should have been avoided” by the local franchisee that fired him. Company headquarters quickly pushed the franchisee to rehire Rohr. Here is the full statement from Pizza Hut:

    [W]e feel strongly that the situation involving our independent franchisee and the local store manager could and should have been avoided. We fully respect an employee’s right to not work on a holiday, which is why the vast majority of Pizza Huts in America are closed on Thanksgiving. As a result, we strongly recommended that the local franchisee reinstate the store manager and they have agreed. We look forward to them welcoming Tony back to the team.
    Rohr previously told local television station WSBT 22 that Pizza Hut should take a stand against the corporate norm to ask workers to come in on Thanksgiving. The day, he said, should be spent with family.

    "I said why can't we be the company that stands up and says we care about our employees and they can have the day off,” Rohr told WSBT 22.

    Many Americans appears to agree. According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, more than 60 percent of Americans say stores should be closed on the holiday.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I will be heading out in a few hours to spend time with the family and will be offline, but I will be back late in the evening to tend to the diary.

    In the meantime, feel free to post what you are grateful for.

  • 11/30/13--12:08: Obamacare is in Crisis (chan 4836812)
  • I have been informed by very concerned people in the media, that November 30, 2013 is one of the most important days in the Obama administration because of the "the crisis."

    And by the crisis, of course, I mean the crappy website experience that many users had in the early days of the launch.

    More about the crisis:

    "The crisis, one of the biggest of Obama's presidency, has enormous political stakes for the administration and its Democratic allies who are heading into congressional elections next year."

    So what's being done about the crisis? Today we will see.

    WASHINGTON — Americans are getting their first look on Saturday at whether a five-week, round-the-clock technology overhaul has made it easier to use the troubled website that is the backbone of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare overhaul.

    The White House had pledged that, which has been plagued by errors, outages, and slow speeds since its disastrous October 1 launch - would be working for most people this weekend.

    So mark this day on your calendar, because today, Saturday, November 30, 2013, the media will be able to definitively report whether the crisis--"one of the biggest of Obama's presidency, [that] has enormous political stakes for the administration and its Democratic allies who are heading into congressional elections next year,"--is finally over or will continue to destroy the Obama administration and the Democratic party.

    Okay media. We are waiting with bated breath. What is your determination?

    The website's account creation and log-in functions appeared to work smoothly by 8 a.m. (1300 GMT) on Saturday, avoiding the crash and error messages seen at its launch. But technology specialists told Reuters that it would be difficult to independently assess whether the site has met the goal of functioning for most users most of the time, including handling 50,000 users at once.

    "There won't be anything you can tell from the outside," said Jonathan Wu, an information technology expert and co-founder of the consumer financial website ValuePenguin.

    O Media.

    Thank you so much for your due diligence that was absent during the run up to the war in Iraq and the rollout of Medicare D, but is there for every incarnation of this website that you do not even have to use since you can always pick up the phone to get Obamacare savings.

    And thank you for putting in writing that you are only capable of definitively reporting that the website is in crisis and that it is "difficult" to determine if it is working.

    So now people who are determined to spread the meme that a malfunctioning website is a disaster that is more disastrous than millions of people going bankrupt or dying without insurance can continue to do so.

    Because you know, there's no way to tell if the website is working or not, because if people say the site is working that is just anecdotal and if the government says it is working that's just propaganda.

    Since it's too "difficult" to prove Obamacare is working, there's no other narrative available for the media to report other than Obamacare is in crisis.

    First the bad news. Or to be more precise, the formerly bad news, since the situation has been corrected.

    Enrollment records for close to 15,000 shoppers were not initially transmitted to the insurance plans they selected, according to a preliminary federal estimate released Saturday.

    Most of these phantom applications occurred in the rocky month of the initial rollout, October 1 through mid-November.

    While these cases pose a challenge for the Obama administration, officials say they believe the situation is improving. Since early December, fewer than 1 percent of enrollments did not make their way to health insurance plans.

    Now the great news.

    There is now hard data available from the government confirming how big this backend problem was and a quality assurance plan in place to completely fix it, well before January 1, when enrollees may officially start using their health plans.

    Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that the rate of errant applications had dropped from a high of 15 percent in mid-October to less than 0.4 percent in the early days of December.

    "To make sure that no consumer falls through the cracks because of earlier pervasive troubles with the site, we are contacting every consumer who has selected a plan through the Federal Marketplace to remind them to pay their premium and connect with their insurer," Bataille wrote.

    Federal officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that consumers should contact their insurer to verify that their application had been processed properly.

    About 137,000 people selected an insurance plan through in October and November.

    That's cold hard data--137,000 registered through the government site Oct.-Nov., and of those, 15,000 applications did not reach the insurer. The government plans to contact everyone of those applicants. Insurers are examining those applications now.

    Earlier this week, Health and Human Services sent the hundreds of insurers who sell on reams of data on who the federal government believed had enrolled in their products. That information, known as a "pre-audit file," is meant to allow insurers to reconcile their own lists of enrollees with the lists of those the federal government believes have signed up.

    "All the files are available, so now people are at the beginning of that process of doing the matching," Andy Slavitt, vice president of Optum/QSSI, said at conference held Thursday by America's Health Insurance Plans.

    While insurers are still analyzing the data, some say they are initially seeing fewer discrepancies than they had initially expected.  Another file will be sent to insurers after Dec. 23, the last day for shoppers to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1.

    So to re-cap.

    The government, which has a spokesman with a first and last name (Julie Bataille), acknowledges that a specific number of people registered through (137,000) and that a specific number failed to reach insurers (15,000). That error rate,  estimated to be 10-15%, has now been reduced to less than one percent.

    I am focusing on the specificity of this Washington Post report, because it is atypical of Obamacare coverage. Typical Obama care coverage is like this New York Times report.

    Enrollment Errors Cut, Officials Say; Fixes Are Overstated, Insurers Report

    The Obama administration said Saturday that it had reduced the error rate in enrollment data sent to insurance companies under the new health care law, even as insurers said that the government’s records were still riddled with mistakes.

    How many specifically were "riddled?" Neither the Times nor the insurers they quote answer that question. Instead they describe what the mistakes were. They don't enumerate them. They just describe them.

    In some instances, they said, the federal government reported that the home address for a new policyholder was outside an insurer’s service area. In other cases, a child was listed as the main subscriber — the person responsible for paying premiums — and parents were listed as dependents.

    In some cases, children were enrolled in a policy by the federal government and parents were left off, or vice versa. In other cases, the government mixed up the members of a family: A child or spouse was listed two or three times in the same application in late November. Such errors can have financial implications, increasing the amount of premiums that a family is required to pay.

    While some of the problems were discovered in the last few days, insurers said that they had previously reported many of the errors to the “help desk” at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that the problems remained unresolved.

    Federal officials, insurers and health care providers said they were concerned about confusion and possible chaos in the early days of January, when people try to use the new insurance coverage they believe they have.

    No hard data. Just 'many are riddled' and these are some of the mistakes.

    What are we supposed to conclude from this laundry list? That no medical coding mistakes have ever been made on insurance applications prior to Obamacare? Did insurers expect to receive error free applications?

    My point is, the types of reports coming from the New York Times and others, are not really reports. This is upscale concern trolling, and piling on, based on anecdotal complaining from insurers.

    Insurers please give us some hard data about the extent of backend problems that you say you are having, so that we know the scale and nature of the problem, and so we can measure if they are improving; so that patterns can be discovered and problems can be fixed and people can be insured.

    Quit this anonymous concern trolling crap and stop still trying to undermine the law of the land. Or don't.

    And let your competitor reap the benefits.

  • 12/27/13--16:54: No Fools Need Apply (chan 4836812)
  • Conventional wisdom says that the rollout and fallout of Obamacare, is what will define political races in 2014.

    But there is another dynamic brewing that cannot be ignored and will undoubtedly shape the outcome of the 2014 races, namely the civil war between the Tea Party and establishment GOP, for the soul of their party and seats in the Senate.

    Political observers will recall that back in 2009 and 2010, the GOP establishment had a very public courtship with the Tea Party and declared its head-over-heels love for its passion and energy.

    Now a mere three years later, they can be found yelling at their ex in public, and as of this week has even has gone so far as to issue a restraining order.

    The Chamber of Commerce plans to launch a $50 million effort to support more centrist, business-friendly GOP candidates. The ultimate aim of the campaign is to win a Republican majority in the Senate.

    "Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” the Chamber’s top political strategist, Scott Reed, told the Journal. "That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket."

    Here's a flashback to the fools parade the GOP is trying to outspend into oblivion.

    Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell, Sharon "Sharia Law in Dearborn" Angle (who replaced Sue "Chicken for Checkups" Lowden) and Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin.

    The recent passage of the Ryan-Murray budget has only exposed the widening fissures between the Tea Party and the establishment GOP.

    Capitol Hill is being treated to the specter of a splintering of Republican forces, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and many of his lieutenants vigorously backing the Ryan-Murray compromise. [...]

    Boehner has lashed out at highly influential outside conservative groups including Club for Growth and Heritage Action for opposing the deal, saying on Thursday that they had crossed a line and lost their credibility by declaring their opposition even before reading the compromise. Heritage Action announced that it would include the budget vote in its annual legislative scorecard.

    “This budget agreement takes giant steps in the right direction,” Boehner told reporters. “But when groups come out and criticize something they’ve never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are.”

    More than 50 high-profile conservative activists signed onto a statement Wednesday responding to both House Speaker John Boehner’s harsh words for conservative groups earlier in the day and the firing of the Republican Study Committee’s longtime executive director, Paul Teller, who became too closely allied with the outside groups. “It is clear that the conservative movement has come under attack on Capitol Hill today,” the statement reads.

    The hatred for and the missteps of Obamacare should have unified the GOP going into 2014, but they can't even agree on hate strategies.

    Health-care tactics split Republican Senate rivals

    In a number of Senate primaries, conservatives are arguing over the best way to oppose President Barack Obama's signature accomplishment. The outcome of those campaigns could affect the battle over which party controls the Senate.

    In intraparty skirmishes from Georgia to Nebraska, the GOP's most strident candidates and activists are insisting on a no-holds-barred approach. They accuse fellow Republicans — including several incumbent senators — of being too soft in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act and to the president in general.

    The struggle will help determine just how conservative the Senate Republican caucus will be during Obama's final two years. And it could influence which party controls the chamber, with Democrats hoping that the most uncompromising Republican standard-bearers will emerge from the primaries and fare as poorly in general elections as their counterparts did in several 2012 Senate races. Republicans need to gain six seats for a majority.

    Obamacare continues to add more people to the 5.5 million who have already signed up and insurers plan to spend $500 million encouraging more sign ups, so it will continue to be front and center in the political headlines.

    But what is more interesting to watch is how the civil war within the GOP will escalate as both sides are certain of victory in 2014--in the war for the GOP.

    A 20-year-old Californian got appendicitis in October 2013. A few months later the bill arrived for his surgery and one-day hospital stay. He posted a picture of his United Health bill and the following comment at the social media site Reddit.

    I never truly understood how much healthcare in the US costs until I got Appendicitis in October. I'm a 20 year old guy. Thought other people should see this to get a real idea of how much an unpreventable illness costs in the US.

    The rest is history.

    Some Guy Posted His Hospital Bill Online. You’ll See Why Everyone’s Talking About It.

    A 20 year-old man came down with appendicitis in October of [2013]. He posted the bill on Reddit and it has gone viral. The US Health Care system is a topic of much debate, not only in the US but around the world. A lot of countries get ‘free’ health care, so needless to say, this has stirred up a lot of conversation.

    More than 10,000 comments have been generated since zcypher posted his $55,029.31 hospital bill, which seems to lend a lie to the claim that "young invincibles" do not care about, want or need health insurance coverage.

    Here is what a few commenters around the world had to say about the $55,000 charges.

    Aussie here. Had appendicitis a few years ago. Went into hospital, stayed 3-4 nights after the operation and until my fever went down.

    Never saw a bill. Even had a follow up appointment a month later to make sure everything was going ok.

    We pay a few hundred dollars a year extra on our taxes as a levy for our Medicare system. Less if we have some kind of private insurance.

    I don't have private insurance, what you Americans would call health insurance. I am simply a citizen of the country I pay taxes to. Helping me to not die is part of our social contract. Isn't it part of yours?
    Malaysian here... for my appendicitis a few years total bill was RM 87.50 (USD 25.24)

    Two people, from different parts of the world. The patient in Malaysia is charged $25.00 and the other, living under 'the best healthcare system in the world,' gets a bill for $55,000 for the same emergency.

    Here is what a fellow American, who also had an unforeseen medical emergency as a 20-year-old, had to say:

    I had the unfortunate luck to have cancer when I was 20. I had no insurance due to taking a year off from college, so my parents didn't cover me any longer. By the end of 2009 I was looking at 150k of bills, praying Medicaid came through. They did and paid everything in full. Though cancer stuff doesn't stop when treatments are over. After 09 I still racked up 50k in bills from scans, visits, blood work etc. I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 24 due to it.

    I'm now at a disadvantage for the main years to buy a home, get a career, marry, and make my life. All because some cells decided to mutate.

    I'm looking at 5 years cancer free in June. So I've got that going me, which is nice.

    It is odd, baffling and frustrating that these stories have been missing from the mainstream media coverage and the political conversation in D.C., since the passage of Obamacare.

    Instead of getting stories about how a lack of affordable health insurance coverage has been devastating millions of long-suffering Americans for decades, we have been bombarded with stories of how an underperforming website and the outlawing of junk insurance has devastated long-suffering insurance companies.

    The 10,000 comments generated by zcypher's Reddit post, highlight the gaping disconnect between media mouthpieces for the insurance industry and the actual lives of Americans at the mercy of a broken healthcare delivery system.

    My cousin died because he couldn't afford his cancer treatment back in 2005. The bills over a 2-year period exceeded $500k, and the insurance company cut him off. I still remember my uncle pleading with the insurance company over the phone. They said he had reached his lifetime limit. He was 27. Not to get too political, but thank god this crap is illegal now thanks to the ACA.

    The fact is, even though the Reddit user does not have to pay the full $55,000 because he is on his parent's health insurance, that is still an astronomical amount of money to charge for a procedure and one-day hospital stay.

    Here's the cost break down from his stay, which included:

    $16,000 for the actual surgery.
    $7,501 for two hours in the recovery room.
    $4,878 for one night's stay.
    $4,562 for anesthesia.

    His total charges came to $55,029.31, and even though insurance covered most of that, he was still sacked with $11,119.53 to come up with on his own.[...]

    So what's going on?

    1. Sutter Health, which owns the hospital where zcypher had his appendectomy, has been sued for overcharging."The chain, which runs 24 acute-care hospitals in California, agreed to pay $46 million in [an] out-of-court settlement, and also to give more pricing information to consumers, as the result of a whistleblower complaint charging that the chain's billing practices were false and misleading," Jeanne Pinder writes at Clear Health Costs.

    2. Hospitals routinely charge vastly different amounts for the same procedure. A California study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that after an appendectomy, patients received bills varying from $1,500 to $180,000. The average was $33,000, and the researchers "included only uncomplicated cases with hospital stays of less than four days," the Associated Press notes. "There's no system at all to determine what is a rational price for this condition or this procedure," study author Renee Hsia of UC San Francisco told the AP.

    Read more:

    Today is not just another New Year's Day.

    January 1, 2014 means that for the first time, in a very long time, millions of Americans have affordable healthcare coverage, including thankfully and finally, yours truly.

    But the viral story of a $55,000 hospital bill posted by a 20-year-old young invincible and a comment from a 27-year-old Medicaid recipient having to declare bankruptcy to cover health costs, reminds us that we still have much more work and organizing to do, in order to get insurance companies to focus on healing instead of gouging.

    Below are a few more comments posted to the Reddit story, that are more insightful and useful than any of the junk journalism we have been getting for the past year.

    They are some of the top Reddit comments among more than 10,000; comments that should put politicians, the media and insurance companies on notice that there are some Americans who are more outraged with insurers than they are with Obamacare and some of these Americans are young, healthy, voting invincibles and they are having the necessary conversation with each other that the media and politicians refuse to participate in.

    First, the hospital is obviously charging you too much. Healthcare Blue Book has an appendectomy at $10,092 (far short of the 55k that they are trying to charge you).

    AETNA negotiated for the whole thing down to $17,581 but if you hassle the hospital you might be able to get closer to the $10,092 that it should cost (give or take for the exact surgery and location). You only save $.20 for each dollar you get the hospital down but thats certainly a place that you should attack.

    Here is the big one. If your plan is an 80/20 co-insurance (as it appears but the math doesn't totally work), you need to fight the insurance company on the grounds that they are responsible for 80% of what the hospital actually charges, rather than what they pretend to charge. The total came to $17,581 (ie, thats the total that the hospital will get) and they should pay 80% of that and leave you with the other 20% (less your deductible). That means that you really should owe $3,516.20 best case (assuming you have met your deductible).

    You need to fight this. Start by contacting Sutter Health. Consider this paperwork the first communication in a negotiation rather than just a bill. Be strong. I just spend a good chunk of time navigating the nuances of American health insurance. PM me if you have other questions and I'll do my best to help.

    Let's start a subreddit /r/medicalbills. You should be a mod. I just got a 3,000 dollar bill for blood work. it's outrageous and nobody knows the strategies to fight it.
    Cbc and bmp (complete blood count and basic metabolic panel) should cost no more than 100$ tops. If it is either of those, fight the charges. Those are the two most common lab tests ordered in usa, with the result that they are very inexpensive to do on scale now.
    It blows my mind you have to even consider negotiating over your health. I am so thankful to be Canadian.

    How to tell a Democrat or Republican from their drink

    Can't figure if the person you're discussing politics with is a Democrat or Republican? Take him or her to a pub and pay attention to what they order. You should have a pretty good idea where they lean after that.

    Democrats are likely to drink clear spirits while their Republican counterparts will prefer brown liquor, according to research from a Republican consulting firm, National Media Research Planning and Placement.

    Republicans were seen to favour traditional North American spirits such as Jim Beam, Canadian Club and Crown Royal whisky. Democrats were found to prefer spirits such as Absolut and Grey Goose vodkas.

    Red state, blue state. Clear drink, brown drink. Can't we all get along? Yes we can.

    Both the Democrats and Republicans show an appreciation for Bacardi and Captain Morgan Spiced Rums.
    While the last few years of brinksmanship and hyperpartisanship have been dispiriting, it is refreshing to see that despite our seemingly irreconcilable political differences there is always rum for improvement.

    Early days of Obamacare bring trickle, not flood, of patients

    NEW YORK Sat Jan 4, 2014 12:47pm EST

    (Reuters) - U.S. medical providers are seeing only a trickle of patients newly insured under President Barack Obama's healthcare law, as insurers, hospitals and doctors try to work out any hitches in coverage.

    More than 2 million people have signed up for new private health plans that took effect on Wednesday under the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. While some of those consumers were already lining up doctor visits last month, early reports from providers and an online medical booking service show the demand for care has been modest so far.

    I swear the concern troll coverage of Obamacare is becoming laughably more absurd with each new headline.

    Earlier this week we were gravely warned that Obamacare would overwhelm the healthcare system. ("Oregon study proves that Medicaid expansion will worsen Hospital Emergency Room burden.") Even though the truth is, over the past two years, Oregon has actually seen a decline in Medicaid emergency department visits this past year.

    Now we're being informed, that Obamacare is not overwhelming the healthcare system enough.

    Two million people who just got health insurance on New Year's Day, have not simultaneously flash mobbed doctors' offices yet, so that means something must be terribly wrong with Obamacare and there really was no demand for affordable healthcare coverage.

    Yes, two million people just signed up for health insurance for the fun of it. There can be no other explanation, otherwise why aren't they in a doctor's office right this minute, and in fact, in a doctor's office every day until they draw their last breath?

    You have to wonder what is the motivation for fear mongering and concern trolling about healthcare security being extended to millions of people who have never had it, by members of the media, many of whom have enjoyed adequate health insurance for themselves and their families for years.

  • 01/06/14--11:30: Frank Luntz is in Agony (chan 4836812)
  • Molly Balljan of the Atlantic informs us that America's top spin doctor is deeply sick in the heart.

    The Agony of Frank Luntz

    MOLLY BALLJAN 6 2014, 6:00 AM ET

    The crisis began, he says, after last year's presidential election, when Luntz became profoundly depressed.[...]

    But Luntz's side had lost elections before. His dejection was deeper: It was, he says, about why the election was lost. "I spend more time with voters than anybody else," Luntz says. "I do more focus groups than anybody else. I do more dial sessions than anybody else. I don't know shit about anything, with the exception of what the American people think."

    It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn't listen to each other as they once had. They weren't interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. "They want to impose their opinions rather than express them," is the way he describes what he saw. "And they're picking up their leads from here in Washington." Haven't political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? "Not like this," he says. "Not like this."

    Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president's message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back.

    Democrats who are often said to be notoriously bad at messaging, outmessaged Frank Luntz and sent him into a message-less funk from which he has yet to recover.

    As we head into the 2014 election year, with Democrats vowing to champion the crisis of wealth inequality, it is heartening to know that America's top spin doctor may have finally met his waterloo.

    By the way, Frank Luntz' agony has not caused any soul searching or change of heart.

    "You should not even expect a safety net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the government to rebuild it. I should have the savings, and if I don't, my neighbors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them." The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate—one that cannot be undone.

    May Frank Luntz' agony be America's electoral ecstasy.

  • 01/17/14--06:55: Duck Dynasty Ratings Down Sharply (chan 4836812)
  • So it turns out that being a racist homophobic prick, who doubles down on said prickery, does not translate into ratings gold:

    Did the controversy surrounding Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson take a toll on the show’s appeal? A&E’s flagship reality series clocked 8.5 million viewers Wednesday night, snapping a streak of ratings records and posting its first season-to-season drop. Among adults 18-49, the premiere averaged 4.2 million viewers, down 33%. Those are still huge numbers for a cable series, but the Season 5 opener was down from the show’s Season 4 debut, which drew nearly 12 million to become the No. 1-rated nonfiction series telecast in cable history. It edged the Season 4 finale, which was watched by 8.4 million.  More recently, the one-hour Duck Dynasty Christmas special logged nearly 9 million viewers.

    The two back-to-back episodes were the first appearance on A&E of the Robertson family since patriarch Phil’s controversial comments about gay men and blacks in a GQ interview that caused A&E to suspend him. After the rest of the family indicated they would not do the show without him, and religious organizations and a legion of conservatives stood by him, A&E reversed its decision, lifting Phil’s suspension.

    Two back-to-back episodes that did slightly better than last year's season finale. A 33% drop in the much-coveted 18-49 demographic.

    That is the shabby results of Phil Robertson's and feckless A&E's cynical attempt to hate-bait their way to record ratings.

    Well at least the stars of the show got something out of all the controversy.

    The gunmaker Mossberg has teamed with Duck Commander, the company owned by "Duck Dynasty's" Robertson clan, to release nine different shotguns, as well as two semiautomatic rifles and a semiautomatic pistol.

    The gloves are officially off.

    Late Saturday, Gov. Chris Christie mounted a blistering attack on the credibility of the New York Times and the disgraced director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority, David Wildstein.

    In an email to his supporters, with the subject line "5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell," Christie attacks Wildstein's character all the way back to when he was a 16-year-old and ends the email with this:

    "Bottom line -- David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein."

    From the email:

    . In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as “tumultuous” and someone who “made moves that were not productive.”

    ·        As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
    ·        He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
    ·        He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
    ·        He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
    ·        He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people’s names without telling them[...]

    ·        Robert Leopold, Livingston’s former Democratic Mayor: Wildstein Was “A Political Animal” Who “Frightened People.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)

    In the email, Christie still insists that he did not know "anything" about the Fort Lee lane closures, now known as Bridgegate, despite the claims from David Wildstein's lawyer that "evidence exists...tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference."

    Today we learned the Governor who won 60-39 percent over his Democratic challenger has had a dramatic reversal of public opinion and is now being booed at public events.

    Christie finds himself at a pivotal mid-scandal moment.

    Does he go humble or does he go ballistic? Christie has chosen to do the latter and throw everyone under a bus who refutes his righteously indignant denials.

    He is choosing to stick to his guns about being ignorant about the misdeeds of the staff that he hired. He is choosing to huff and puff about the callousness and stupidity of the staff that he hired. He is choosing to insist that every bombshell and shoe that drops is neither a shoe nor a bomb and that everyone is only looking out for themselves.

    Like his time as governor, it will be entertaining to see how long that lasts.

    The Associated Press is the latest to explain why so many got the latest Congressional Budget Office report so wrong.

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- New estimates that President Barack Obama's health care law will encourage millions of Americans to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours have touched off an I-told-you-so chorus from Republicans, who've claimed all along that the law will kill jobs. But some aren't telling it straight.[...]

    The study estimates that the workforce will be reduced by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers by 2021 as people choose to leave it. More would take early retirement, work fewer hours or otherwise rearrange their work-home balance to take advantage of new subsidies for health insurance and new markets for individual policies that don't depend on having a job.

    In a key point overlooked in the GOP response, the report says: "The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses' demand for labor."

    In other words, workers aren't being laid off. They are taking themselves out of the workforce, in many cases opening job opportunities for others.

    To people who don't listen to explanations, explaining things to them is always a losing proposition.

    For those who honestly do want to understand the truth in the midst of competing claims, the AP summarizes the Obamacare section of the CBO report in this short and sweet paragraph:

    The predicted withdrawal from the labor market is no more a killer of jobs than today's surge of retirements by baby boomers entering old age. If anything, it could open job opportunities for people who can't get in the workforce now.

    Last week Tim Armstrong, Chief Executive Office of America Online, held a good news/bad news townhall with his employees in which he said the good news was that the company posted its highest quarterly profits in years.

    The bad news was that the good news would not be trickling down, as there would be belt-tightening at the firm, including an end to matching employee 401-K contributions each pay period.


    “Two things that happened in 2012,” Armstrong said. “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

    After getting pushback within the company, from the blogosphere and the general public, Armstrong apologized and reversed his decision.

    Deanna Fei, the mother of one of the "distressed babies" has written a first-person account about what it felt like the day her daughter was born and the day the newborn became a subject of a company townhall.

    On Oct. 9, 2012, when I woke up in pain, my husband was at the airport about to board a flight for a work trip. I was home alone with our 1-year-old son and barely able to comprehend that I could be in labor. By the time I arrived at the hospital, my husband a few minutes behind, I was fully dilated and my baby’s heartbeat was slowing. Within 20 minutes, my daughter was delivered via emergency cesarean, resuscitated, and placed in the neonatal intensive care unit.

    She weighed 1 pound, 9 ounces.[...]

    My daughter had to spend three months in the NICU, dependent on many high-tech medical apparatuses and round-the-clock care. She endured more procedures than I can count: blood transfusions, head ultrasounds, the insertion of breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and a central line extending nearly to her heart.[...]

    I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a “distressed baby” who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits. How he exposed the most searing experience of our lives, one that my husband and I still struggle to discuss with anyone but each other, for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.[...]

    Because the day of her birth was the furthest thing from a happy event, because so many of her first days were lived under the specter of death, I’ve never had the luxury of taking her presence for granted. Every time she wakes with a dazzling smile and goes to sleep with her soft head against my shoulder feels like a wonder. It can be a struggle to set aside my lingering trauma amid the daily realities of coordinating her care to simply celebrate the fierce, beautiful girl who has completed our family.

    All of which made the implication from Armstrong that the saving of her life was an extravagant option, an oversize burden on the company bottom line, feel like a cruel violation, no less brutal for the ludicrousness of his contention.

    Near the end of her essay, Fei explains that "there was nothing high-risk about my pregnancy. I never had a single risk factor for a preterm birth, let alone one as extreme as this one. Until the morning I woke up in labor, every exam indicated that our daughter was perfectly healthy." 

    Then she asks a million dollar question of Armstrong and others who share his mindset.

    We experienced exactly the kind of unforeseeable, unpreventable medical crisis that any health plan is supposed to cover. Isn’t that the whole point of health insurance?

    11:06 PM PT: I am trying to fully understand this quote:

    “Two things that happened in 2012,” Armstrong said.“We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

    Is he saying the "two things" are the "distressed" births? Or is he saying the distressed births and the cost of Obamacare are the two "things?"

    Either way it sounds like he is thoughtlessly referring to both of these births as "things;" a set of itemized charges that threaten his bottom line--and when I say his bottom line, I mean everyone else's, particularly those who contribute to a 401-K.

    Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM PT: Deanna Fei is an acclaimed novelist.

    Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 10:14 AM PT: When asked about how AOL is insured the company line is 'no comment.' So I did a little digging around. Apparently, AOL employees are covered by Cigna. Here's the AOL/Cigna benefit package for 2013.

    Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 10:43 AM PT: From Cigna's white paper advising employers to consider stop loss insurance in order to limit employer reimbursement liability on costly claims:

    Conditions resulting in claims greater than $1 million are more prevalent today due to advances in medical technology and improvements in life-extending care.

    Bill Nye the Science Guy, POTUS and Neil deGrasse Tyson in a selfie taken at the White House. (I don't think Bill Nye appears in the series but I love this pic.)

    "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," The 21st century successor to Carl Sagan's "Cosmos: A Personal Journey" is premiering 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT on Fox and the National Geographic Channel.

    If you do not have a television, like me, apparently we will have to watch it after it airs since this livestream link does not appear to be working.

    Astrophysicist and author, Neil deGrasse Tyson will host and President Barack Obama will introduce the series, hoping that the "Cosmos" reboot will invite "a new generation to embrace the spirit of discovery and [inspire] viewers to explore new frontiers and imagine limitless possibilities for the future," according to the White House.

    Hollywood Reporter

    Cosmos is getting a massive push, premiering simultaneously on several Fox Network-owned channels, including FX, FXX, National Geographic Channel, Fox Sports 1, FXM, Fox Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and Fox Life. This is the first time Fox Networks Group has done a high-profile multi-network launch. Cosmos will be available on 220 networks in 181 countries.
    The original "Cosmos" was and is a big deal:

    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, with Sagan as global presenter.[...] It covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe.

    The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, and was the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until The Civil War (1990). It is still the most widely watched PBS series in the world. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 600 million people, according to the Science Channel.

    Carl Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan is a writer, director and an executive producer of the new "Cosmos.""Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane is an executive producer.

    Washington Post

    Science geek Seth MacFarlane donates to Carl Sagan’s notes collection

    The astronomer’s papers — 798 boxes of documents meticulously saved since high school, including vast amounts of correspondence with other scientists and with ordinary people — are available for researchers under the name “Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive.” MacFarlane landed in the title because he donated the money that allowed the library to purchase the papers from Druyan (Sagan’s widow), reports our colleague Joel Achenbach.

    MacFarlane said he’s concerned that science literacy is fading. A couple of decades ago, he says, TV programs focused on space and other scientific topics, but now they’re more likely to be about witches, vampire and angels: “It’s all become a bunch of fluff. That is a symptom of the bizarre fear of science that’s taken hold.”

    Here is the trailer for the original "Cosmos."


    (Lots of whizzbang graphics--well, whizzbang for the era--and faces floating through pictures of space.)  

    Carl Sagan: The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.

    The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths, of exquisite interrelationships, of the awesome machinery of nature.

    For all I know we may be visited by a different extraterrestrial civilization every second Tuesday but there's no support for this appealing idea.

    We are one planet.

    We know who speaks for the nations, but who speaks for the human species?

    Who speaks for earth?

    Welcome to Cosmos; to an adventure that will take us across the known universe and back to its very beginnings.

    More than 400 million people in over 60 countries have made this voyage of exploration about the origin, nature and fate of the universe and our place within it.

    We are creatures of the cosmos and have always hungered to know our origins; to understand our connection with the universe.

    It is the birthright of every child to encounter the cosmos anew in every culture and every age.

    When this happens to us we experience a deep sense of wonder.

    We are born to delight in the world. We are taught to distinguish our preconceptions from the truth.

    Then new worlds are discovered as we decipher the mysteries of the cosmos.

    Except for hydrogen and helium every atom in the Sun and the earth was synthesized in other stars.

    We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into his own hands.

    The discovery that there is order in the universe; that there are laws of nature is the foundation on which science builds today.

    Every human generation has asked about the origin and fate of the cosmos. Ours is the first generation with a real chance of finding some of the answers.

    We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready, at last, to set sail for the stars.

    One way or another we are poised at the edge of forever.

    (Sagan, seated on the edge of the ocean) Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return.

    And we can.

    Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff.

    We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

    Here's the official trailer for the reboot, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey":


    Carl Sagan: The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.

    Our contemplations of the cosmos stirs. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's time to get going again.

    (Followed by whizzbang graphics, CGI spaceships, vignettes of a toddler's first steps, animated deer and cavemen, explosions and more CGI spaceships.

    There's very little talking on the new trailer and lots of whizzbang. What does that portend for the actual series? We'll just have to tune in and see.)

    Gratuitous Carl Sagan quote, "Pale Blue Dot":
    “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

    ― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

    Earthquake in Los Angeles, where it is widely known that we built this city on rock and roll.

    Feels like I am laying down on a surfboard or a waterbed. Nobody made a noise outside my window. I didn't hear any car alarms go off, which is the natural call of the wild, following a quake in these parts.

    Inspired and suddenly a little bit more awake than I was a moment ago, I am beginning my first draft of Sharkquake, for the SyFy channel.

    Did anybody else in California feel it?