November 14, 2013 archive

Nov 14

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Nov 14

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Nov 14

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Nov 14

On This Day In History November 14

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 14 is the 318th day of the year (319th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 47 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1851, the novel Moby Dick is published. Moby Dick, a novel by Herman Melville about the voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers in New York. Moby Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: “Call me Ishmael.” Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.

Moby-Dick is widely considered to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg. Ahab intends to take revenge.

In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the main character’s journey, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of gods are all examined as Ishmael speculates upon his personal beliefs and his place in the universe. The narrator’s reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor’s life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices such as stage directions, extended soliloquies and asides. The book portrays insecurity that is still seen today when it comes to non-human beings along with the belief that these beings understand and act like humans. The story is based on the actual events around the whaleship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale while at sea and sank.

Moby Dick has been classified as American Romanticism. It was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851, in an expurgated three-volume edition titled The Whale, and weeks later as a single volume, by New York City publisher Harper and Brothers as Moby Dick; or, The Whale on November 14, 1851. Although the book initially received mixed reviews, Moby Dick is now considered part of the Western canon.

Nov 14

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Shredding

Nov 14

Late Night Karaoke

Nov 14

Rolling Jubilee

Occupy Wall Street activists buy $15m of Americans’ personal debt

Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian

Tuesday 12 November 2013 10.34 EST

Rolling Jubilee, set up by Occupy’s Strike Debt group following the street protests that swept the world in 2011, launched on 15 November 2012. The group purchases personal debt cheaply from banks before “abolishing” it, freeing individuals from their bills.

By purchasing the debt at knockdown prices the group has managed to free $14,734,569.87 of personal debt, mainly medical debt, spending only $400,000.



The group is able to buy debt so cheaply due to the nature of the “secondary debt market”. If individuals consistently fail to pay bills from credit cards, loans, or medical insurance the bank or lender that issued the funds will eventually cut its losses by selling that debt to a third party. These sales occur for a fraction of the debt’s true values – typically for five cents on the dollar – and debt-buying companies then attempt to recoup the debt from the individual debtor and thus make a profit.



(Andrew Ross, a member of Strike Debt and professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University says) “Very few people know how cheaply their debts have been bought by collectors. It changes the psychology of the debtor, knowing this.

“So when you get called up by the debt collector, and you’re being asked to pay the full amount of your debt, you now know that the debt collector has bought your debt very, very cheaply. As cheaply as we bought it. And that gives you moral ammunition to have a different conversation with the debt collector.”

Occupy Wall Street’s debt buying strikes at the heart of capitalism

Alex Andreou, The Guardian

Wednesday 13 November 2013 11.20 EST

When the Occupy movement came into being in the summer of 2011, its critics said that a lack of identifiable objectives and strategy for achieving them meant it was doomed to fail. This was a monumental underestimation of its potential impact. Two years on, the debate about the ethics of corporate capitalism in its current form, the fairness of the remuneration of those at the top, the widening wealth gap and the morality of tax avoidance is alive and well. The concept of the “99%” is now part of the collective consciousness. All this is, in no small part, down to the fuse lit by the Occupy movement.



One of the most significant, and perhaps the most threatening to the status quo, is the Strike Debt group, of which the Rolling Jubilee project forms part.

The idea is that, those freed from debt and those sympathetic to the movement, then donate into the fund to keep it “rolling” forward; hence the name. The fund has already raised $600,000 and has used $400,000 of this to purchase and cancel an astonishing $14.7m of debt, primarily focusing on medical bills. This strikes at the very heart of the system, not only by using its own perverse rules against it, but critically by revealing the illusory and circular nature of debt.

Capitalism requires a layer of cheap, flexible labour to operate optimally. It is not a coincidence that the most successful global economy, by any traditional capitalist measure, is an authoritarian quasi-communist state. Many, myself included, have been arguing that our current predicament is not crisis-consequent austerity, but a permanent adjustment. David Cameron on Monday confirmed as much. The great lie, peddled by Thatcher and Reagan, was the idea that we could all be middle class, white-collar professionals within a neoliberal economy. It was simply not true.



This is why the debate on the back-door privatisation of medical and education services in this country matters so much. The extraction of profit from these two key areas changes the social contract in a fundamental way. The idea is no longer that the state will educate you and keep you healthy, so that you may continue to contribute with both your work and your taxes. It has mutated instead into “you will borrow money from the state’s private partners in order to become educated and stay healthy, so that you may continue to contribute to their bottom line”. All of the 99%, in a very real way, work in part for an assortment of financial institutions, largely invisible and certainly unaccountable.

Iceland’s – strangely unreported – decision to write down mortgage debt for its citizens, undermines that notion. A rejection of traditional systems of credit and money as a response to austerity, such as in the barter markets of Volos in Greece and Turin in Italy undermines that notion. The Rolling Jubilee project undermines that notion in a significant way, by asking the sizzling question: “If a corporation is prepared to accept five cents on the dollar in exchange for our debts, if that is our debt’s open market value, how much do we really owe?”

Nov 14

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filibuster Reform Discussed Again

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The side show over filibuster and Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s appointments to cabinet positions and to vacant seats on the bench, especially to the DC Circuit which hears some of the most important constitutional cases, has once again begun amidst the main event of the failure the roll out of the ACA. Senate Republicans filibustered a judicial nomination to the DC Circuit Court

President Obama’s latest choice to fill one of the vacancies on a powerful appeals court went down in a filibuster on Tuesday as Senate Republicans blocked another White House nominee – the third in two weeks – and deepened a growing conflict with Democrats over presidential appointments.

By a vote of 56 to 41, the nomination of Cornelia T. L. Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, fell short of clearing the necessary 60-vote threshold. [..]

The disagreements carried over onto the Senate floor on Tuesday, as Democrats accused Republicans of blocking a perfectly qualified woman for political purposes, while Republicans said Democrats were desperately looking for a wedge issue.

Looming underneath their disagreements about Ms. Pillard is the likelihood – which appeared to grow considerably on Tuesday – that the fight will escalate and result in a change to the Senate rules to limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, warned Republicans that they were pushing the Senate dangerously close to a tipping point.

The Republicans attempt to reframe the argument saying that the DC Circuit isn’t as busy as other courts such as the 2nd Circuit in New York. The court handles most of the legal challenges to federal agencies, putting it at the center of fights over regulations – including the healthcare reform law and Obama’s push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. After Tuesday’s vote, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) said, “We’re going by the standards that Democrats set in 2006.”

Their strategy: lock in the current 4-4 court by eliminating the empty seats and redistributing them to other circuits, because some other courts (ones that aren’t the first recourse for people suing Congress over legislation) have more cases. “In 2012, there were 512 ‘administrative appeals’ filed in D.C.,” said Grassley on Tuesday. “In the 2nd Circuit, there were 1,493. Stated differently, in D.C. there were only 64 administrative appeals per active judge. The 2nd Circuit has nearly twice as many with 115.”

That framing, which seemed like a stretch-no one also denies that the D.C. Circuit gets more pivotal cases than the 2nd Circuit-has since been universally adopted by the right. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the sort of Republican whom Democrats like to cut deals with, has endorsed Grassley’s Court Efficiency Act because it would “bring a reasonable end to the destructive partisan fights to which both parties have contributed.” A third-party ad hitting Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (a Gang of 14 member) right now accuses him of trying to “pack a key court with liberal judges” because he doesn’t want to eliminate the three open seats. Grassley points out that Democrats blocked a 2006 Bush nominee on the grounds that the seat didn’t need to be filled-what more evidence does he need?

“We’re going by the standards that Democrats set in 2006,” said Grassley after Tuesday’s vote. “They said that we didn’t need any more judges. And that’s exactly what I’m telling ’em, what they said! We’re just doing what they said. They set the standard and they can’t say we’re doing this because we’ve got a Democratic president, because I got a judge removed, the 12th one removed, when we had a Republican president.””

The problem with Grassley’s argument is that in 2006, the Republican’s got what they wanted. By threatening the “nuclear option,” the Democrats backed down and three very conservative, ideologues were appointed to the DC circuit. Funny how the Republicans can now support that which they opposed seven years ago.

Support for filibuster reform picked up a new supporter after the vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“If the Republican caucus continues to abuse the filibuster rule and obstruct the president’s fine nominees to the D.C. Circuit, then I believe … a rules change should be in order,” Leahy said on the Senate floor, just before Republicans blocked Nina Pillard’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“That is not a change that I’ve wanted to see happen,” he continued. “But if Republican senators are going to hold nominees hostage without consideration of a nominee’s individual merits, drastic measures may be warranted.”

Leahy, laughing at the Republican excuse that each judge costs $1 million per year, stated the Republican government shut down cost billions of dollars that would have funded those appointments for years.

Contributing editor at the National Journal and resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Norm Ornstein laid out his reasons why it was time to stop the filibuster madness

Mel Watt was nominated by President Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency-and was blocked by a Republican filibuster. The rationale that Watt was not qualified for the position was flimsy at best. If individual senators wanted to vote against him, they certainly have the right to do so on any basis. But to deny the president his choice for this post, a veteran and moderate lawmaker with sterling credentials and moral character, via filibuster, is nothing short of outrageous. Only two Republicans in the Senate, Rob Portman and Richard Burr, Watt’s colleague from North Carolina, voted for cloture.

Watt was not the only victim of a drive-by filibuster; so was Patricia Millett, a superbly qualified and mainstream nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Only two Republicans supported cloture here; Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and three others voted “present” (which was no help, since anything but a vote for cloture is meaningless with a rule requiring 60 votes, period, to end debate). The rationale here was even more flimsy than that used against Watt, namely that Obama is trying to “pack” the D.C. Circuit. FDR tried to “pack” the Supreme Court by adding seats to the existing Court. Barack Obama is moving to fill long-standing vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. On this Circuit, thanks to a slew of retired judges appointed by presidents long gone, conservatives have an edge that Mitch McConnell is determined to keep no matter what.

When Harry Reid and McConnell reached a deal on filibusters in January, it was clear that a key component of that deal was that Republicans in the Senate would give due deference to a newly reelected president in his executive nominations, and would only oppose judicial nominations for courts of appeals under “extraordinary circumstances,” which clearly means judges without clear qualifications or experience, or extreme ideologies. No one could accuse Millett of either of those characteristics. This is all about denying a president the right to pick judges to fill existing vacancies. Two more nominees for the D.C. Circuit are coming up soon, the real test of whether Republicans will continue to flout the January agreement and threaten fundamental comity in the Senate. [..]

If the other two D.C. Circuit nominees are filibustered and blocked, I would support Harry Reid’s move to change the rules now, to move from a 60-vote requirement to stop debate and vote to a 40-vote requirement to continue debate. The argument that if he does so, Republicans will do the same thing when they take the White House and Senate is a bad one: Can anyone doubt that McConnell would blow up the filibuster rule in a nanosecond if he had the ability to fill all courts with radical conservatives like Janice Rogers Brown for decades to come? I hope it does not come to this-and that the problem solvers in the Senate keep their titles, preserve their institution, and stop the filibuster madness.

But does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have the votes? Even with Leahy’s support this time, there may not be the 51 votes needed.

“If we can’t move ahead based on how the procedures have been perverted, we need to fix the procedures. That’s the deal,” said Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, which is leading a coalition lobbying for changes to filibuster rules.

Cohen said Reid “is willing” to change the rules but “the question is whether the leader can get 50 Democrats, not 49 or 48, to sustain that motion.”

A senior Democratic aide said Reid has not conducted a recent whip count and questioned how outside groups or rank-and-file Democratic senators would know the vote count if the leader attempted a rule change immediately.

“Any declarative statements at this point are extremely premature,” said the senior aide.

A cloture vote on the nomination on Robert Wilkins, a third nominee to the court, will be held in the near future. The Republicans have already indicated that his  nomination will also be filibustered. We’ll see if reform of this antiquated, misused rule gains more support after that.  

Nov 14

Spying on Democracy for a Price

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is prohibited by law from spying on the domestic activities of Americans but that hasn’t stopped them from paying a giant telecommunications company for the phone records of Americans making call overseas, as reported by the New York Times in an article by Charlie Savage:

The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations by exploiting the company’s vast database of phone records, which includes Americans’ international calls, according to government officials. [..]

The program adds a new dimension to the debate over government spying and the privacy of communications records, which has been focused on National Security Agency programs in recent months. The disclosure sheds further light on the ties between intelligence officials and communications service providers. And it shows how agencies beyond the N.S.A. use metadata – logs of the date, duration and phone numbers involved in a call, but not the content – to analyze links between people through programs regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight.

Author of Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance, Heidi Boghosian joined Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company to discuss spying and  our civil liberties



Transcript can be read here

Book Excerpt: Spying on Democracy

by Heidi Boghosian

In describing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), best-selling author James Bamford, whose reporting in the 1980s revealed the existence of the NSA, calls the database used to store names gathered from the federal eavesdropping programs a disaster. The advent of digital communications and mass storage, he says, coupled with a failure of law and policy to keep abreast of technological advancements and an NSA “where the entire world’s knowledge is stored, but not a single word understood,” yields “the capacity to make tyranny total in America.”

Much of the information in government databases such as TIDE is collected with the cooperation of corporations. Although the US surveillance state is colossal in scope, Americans need not be complicit in sustaining it. Tethered to electronic gadgets, under watchful corporate and government command, Americans have a choice about the amount of information afforded to authorities. We can embrace the positive aspects of technology while electing to actively resist and dismantle its invasive and anti-democratic aspects.

To do so, it is essential to reject outright the premise on which a domestic surveillance grid has been erected: that it makes us safer. Comprehensive monitoring and the targeting of certain individuals and social networks for greater observation, is demonstrably ineffective in its purported function of making Americans more secure.