Thursday Reads: Net Neutrality, Sandy Hook Anniversary, and Trump’s Megalomania

MA Sen. Ed Markey speaks at net neutrality rally outside FCC headquarters this morning.

Good Morning!!

Today the FCC will vote to kill net neutrality rules. That should set off a number of lawsuits and protests. The Commission meeting is happening right now.

NBC News: Net neutrality: FCC to vote on rules that will shape future of the internet.

Your future internet experience now rests in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to vote on Thursday to end rules requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic as equal.

The five members are expected to vote 3-2 along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules, returning to a “light touch”approach and ending what Chairman Ajit Pai has called the federal government’s “micromanaging” of the internet.

“Prior to 2015, before these regulations were imposed, we had a free and open internet,” Pai told NBC News. “That is the future as well under a light touch, market-based approach. Consumers benefit, entrepreneurs benefit. Everybody in the internet economy is better off with a market based approach.”

The end of net neutrality rules will mark a huge victory for the big internet service providers. Depending on how they decide to act, the vote could have massive implications for the way you use the internet.

Gizmodo: Ajit Pai Thinks You’re Stupid Enough to Buy This Crap [Update: One of the 7 Things Is Dancing With a Pizzagater]

On Thursday, the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Verizon BFF Ajit Pai, will hold a vote on whether to repeal Barack Obama-era net neutrality rules. If passed, the FCC would allow ISPs to begin setting up a tiered internet designed to suck as much money from customers’ pockets as possible while screwing with their ability to access competitors’ content, or really anything that might suck up amounts of bandwidth inconvenient for their profit margins.

The plan is immensely unpopular, even with Republicans. This type of situation would typically call for a charm offensive, though Pai has apparently decided to resort to his time-honored tactic of being incredibly condescending instead. In a video with the conservative site Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson—the dude who got fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarizing Yahoo Answers—Pai urged the country to understand that even if he succeeds in his plan to let ISPs strangle the rest of the internet to death, they’ll let us continue to take selfies and other stupid bullshit.

Gif source: Daily Caller

“There’s been quite a bit of conversation about my plan to restore Internet freedom,” Pai says in the cringe-inducing clip. “Here are just a few of the things you will still be able to do on the Internet after these Obama-era regulations are repealed.”

Pai then pantomimed things users will supposedly still be able to do, like being able to “gram your food,” “post photos of cute animals, like puppies,” “shop for all your Christmas presents online,” “binge watch your favorite shows,” and “stay part of your favorite fan community.”

“You can still drive memes right into the ground,” Pai added before breaking into a literal Harlem Shake segment. Astute viewers may remember that this was an intolerable meme from all the way back in 2013 which has not grown any less intolerable in the intervening four years.

Please click on the link to read the rest and watch the clips.

The LA Times editorializes: The FCC sacrifices the free and open Internet on the altar of deregulation.

In defending his proposed rollback of federal net neutrality rules, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly said that he’s merely trying to return to the “light touch” regulation that helped make the internet what it is today.

That’s transparently false, and Pai knows it. The deregulation of AT&T, Comcast and other broadband providers that Pai and the commission’s other Republican appointees are expected to approve Thursday is a dramatic abdication of authority that could usher in an ugly new era for individuals and companies that offer content and services online, and for the people who rely on them.

It’s hard to know at this point how altered the internet will be after the dominant local providers of high-speed internet access services are freed to meddle with the traffic on their networks. But merely giving them that freedom could discourage innovation and investment online by creating potential new obstacles to start-ups and others that would compete with deep-pocketed sites and services….

The obvious problem there is that broadband providers could pick winners and losers online and stay out of trouble for it simply by disclosing that they are, in fact, prioritizing traffic for any online site or service that can afford the fee. No deception and no unfairness, but no neutrality, either. There’s also a realistic fear that broadband providers would favor their own sites and services because some are doing it already — for example, AT&T effectively exempts video streams from its DirecTV subsidiary from its wireless data caps.

Read the rest at the LA Times.

Today is also the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre.

David Frum at The Atlantic on Oct. 3, 2017: Mass Shootings Don’t Lead to Inaction—They Lead to Loosening Gun Restrictions.

“After Newtown, nothing changed, so don’t expect anything to change after Las Vegas.”

How often have you heard that said? Yet it’s not true. The five years since a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have seen one of the most intense bursts of gun legislation in U.S. history—almost all of it intended to ensure that more guns can be carried into more places.

In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, gun-rights activists assertively carried openly displayed weapons into more and more places. Many national chain stores banned weapons, but at least one—Starbucks—did not. In August 2013, gun-rights activists declared a “Starbucks Appreciation Day.” They made a special point that day of carrying weapons in Starbucks outlets nationwide, including the Starbucks in Newtown itself. (The store closed for the day to avert the demonstration.)

Since Newtown, more than two dozen states have expanded the right to carry into previously unknown places: bars, churches, schools, college campuses, and so on. The most ambitious of these laws was adopted in Georgia in April 2014. Among other provisions, it allowed guns to be carried into airports right up to the federal TSA checkpoint.

Read more at the link.

The Washington Post has an important investigative article today on the consequences of Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and continues to interfere in our politics: Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked.

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

It didn’t work. To this day, Trump stubbornly refuses to accept reality.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account….

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success….

…overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

This is horrifying:

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

I’ve quoted quite a bit, but it’s long piece. Please go read the whole thing at the WaPo.

Finally, a reaction from Greg Sargent: This new report confirms that Trump’s megalomania threatens our democracy.

We already know that President Trump’s narcissism and megalomania threaten our democracy in multiple ways. His intolerance of critical media scrutiny fuels his systematic campaign to delegitimize the free press. His inability to acknowledge that his own conduct led directly to the special counsel’s Russia probe fuels a deep grievance and rage over it, making it more likely that he can be goaded into trying to close the investigation down.

Now a blockbuster new Post report shows how these traits are coming together to expose our democracy to danger on another front. Just before Trump was sworn in as president, the report says, his advisers urged him to publicly acknowledge U.S. intelligence findings that Russia tried to sabotage our democracy. But Trump “became agitated,” the report notes. “He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.” [….]

As I’ve argued, we have done a poor job of accurately capturing the true nature of Trump’s position on Russian interference. It isn’t simply that Trump denies his campaign colluded with that interference. Rather, it’s that this interference never happened at allirrespective of whether any collusion with it took place. (We now know that collusion did happen; at this point the question is how serious the misconduct was.)

Though Trump has at times acknowledged that such sabotage did take place, he has mostly refused to do so. This has long appeared to reflect an inability to view discussion of Russian interference as about anythThing other than himself. To acknowledge Russian meddling can only be an acknowledgement that his victory may have reflected unsavory external factors along with his blinding greatness, and thus may have been in some sense tainted, and since in Trump’s mind that cannot be true, it also cannot be true that Russia meddled at all.

Those are the top stories today, IMHO; but there’s plenty more happening. What stories are you following?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I thought I’d try to get off the topic of the midterm elections specifically and get on to some general things about why the U.S. Political System seems so completely screwed up right now.  What exactly has led us to the point where the Republicans seem to be a combination of the John Birch banksy-dreams_00349040Society and Theocrats and the Democratic Party sits idly by and twiddles its thumbs hoping the process works like it used to?

William Pfaff has a few things to say about this in an article titled “How Ronald Reagan and the Supreme Court Turned American Politics Into a Cesspool”.   One of the things that does completely amaze me is how the entire Reagan Presidency has turned into a narrative that’s more saga and drama than reality.  There’s some really interesting points here.  How did this election get so removed from reality in that people voted for one set of priorities when it came to issues like marijuana legalization and the minimum wage but then sent people to the District diametrically opposed to these policies?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that, while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech. Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

BanksyCleaningUpWhat role has Citizen’s United played in our elections? 

Don’t think Citizens United made a difference for the GOP in Tuesday’s midterms? The plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case thinks so.

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election,” said David Bossie, chairman of the conservative advocacy organization.

He complained that Democratic lawmakers were trying to “gut the First Amendment” with their proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 ruling, reported Right Wing Watch, which allowed corporations to pour cash into campaigns without disclosing their contributions.

Bossie said this so-called “dark money” was crucial to Republicans gaining control of the U.S. Senate and strengthening their grip on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“A robust conversation, which is what a level playing field allows, really creates an opportunity for the American people to get information and make good decisions,” Bossie said.

Besides the role of dark money, the number of states that will continue to enact voter suppression measures between now and 2016 is expected to increase.

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states’ respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

Suppression of voting rights and purposeful spread of lies, propaganda, and disinformation are likely to continue as the 2016 Presidential Political season begins.Will the Democratic Party learn anything from the last two disastrous mid term elections? banksy-w1200

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

I’m not claiming that such displays would have changed the outcome. Given President Obama’s unpopularity, Democratic victories, especially in red states, may have been impossible.

But there is a crucial lesson here for 2016. In recent years, some Democrats have convinced themselves they can turn out African Americans, Latinos, single women, the poor, and the young merely by employing fancy computer systems and exploiting Republican extremism. But technologically, Republicans are catching up, and they’re getting shrewder about blunting, or at least masking, the harshness of their views.

We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

If Hillary Clinton wants to reverse those numbers, she’s going to have to inspire people—people who, more than their Republican counterparts, are inclined toward disconnection and despair. And her gender alone won’t be enough. She lost to Obama in 2008 in part because she could not overcome her penchant for ultra-cautious, hyper-sanitized, consultant-speak. Yet on the stump this year, she was as deadening as the candidates she campaigned for. As Molly Ball put it in September, “Everywhere Hillary Clinton goes, a thousand cameras follow. Then she opens her mouth, and nothing happens.”

Then, there is this: Former Republican Committeemen Claim Election Judges Coerced Into Voting GOP. banksy-wallpaper-tumblr-12-wide

A day after the election, officials are still counting ballots and the investigation into who made robocalls that allegedly persuaded many judges not to show up Tuesday is heating up.

Two former Republican committeemen are telling 2 Investigator Pam Zekman they were removed because they objected to those tactics.

Judges of election are appointed by their respective parties and they look at a judge’s primary voting records as part of the vetting process. But in these cases the former committeemen we talked to said that vetting crossed a line when judges were told who they had to vote for in the Tuesdays’ election.

One says it happened at a temporary campaign headquarters at 8140 S. Western Ave, which we’ve confirmed it was rented by the Republican Party where election judges reported they were falsely told they had to appear for additional training.

And a former 7th ward committeewoman says she witnessed the same thing at 511. E. 79th Street campaign workers calling judges to come in for additional training. She says there wasn’t any training.

“They were calling election judges, telling them to come in so they could get specific orders to vote for the Republican Party,” said Charon Bryson.

She says she is a Republican but objected to the tactic used on the judges.

“They should not be be pressured or coerced into voting for someone to get a job, or to get an appointment,” said Bryson.

Bryson says she thinks it is like “buying a vote.”

“If you don’t vote Republican you will not be an Republican judge, which pays $170,” she said.

The Board of Elections is now investigating whether calls to judges assigned citywide resulted in a shortage that infuriated the mayor.

“What happened with the robocalls was intentional. As far as we can tell somebody got a list, a list with names and numbers, called them, not to educate, not to promote the democratic process, but to sew confusion,” Emanuel said.

imagesScared by polls that show that people do not want Republican policies and by changes in demographics, Republicans have been pulling out the stops to turn back the tide.  However, none of these fundamentals seem to be driving voting trends or turnout.  WTF is wrong with people?  As a member of the White Women Constituency who seem to be one of the groups that continues to vote against their own interest, I can agree that we should all get our acts together now.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the Wendy Davis campaign.

Once more, with feeling: Greg Abbott and the Republican Party did not win women. They won white women. Time and time again, people of color have stood up for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for immigrant communities while white folks vote a straight “I got mine” party ticket—even when they haven’t, really, gotten theirs.

The trend is echoed in national politics; we saw it play out across the country last night. To be sure, there are many factors that contributed to America’s rightward dive over the cliff: In a post-Citizens United electoral landscape, racist gerrymandering and voter ID laws appear to have had their intended effects of dividing and disenfranchising already marginalized voters.

But there’s another factor at play that Democrats fail to grapple with, and the Republican Party capitalizes on, time and time again: the historical crisis of empathy in the white community, one much older than gerrymandered congressional districts or poll taxes.

Let’s talk about what a vote for Wendy Davis meant: It meant a vote for strong public school funding, for Texas Medicaid expansion, for affordable family planning care, for environmental reforms, for access to a full spectrum of reproductive health-care options.

On the flip side, a vote for Greg Abbott meant a vote for the status quo, for empowering big industry and big political donors, for cutting public school funds and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, for overturning Roe v. Wade.

White women chose Greg Abbott Tuesday night. We did not choose empathy. Texas has been red for two decades. We do not choose empathy. We choose the fact that our children will always have access to education, that our daughters will always be able to fly to California or New York for abortion care, that our mothers will always be able to get that crucial Pap smear.

We chose a future where maternal mortality—but not our maternal mortality—rates will rise. We chose a future where preventable deaths from cervical cancer—but not our deaths—will rise. We chose a future where deaths from illegal, back-alley abortions—but not our illegal, back-alley abortions—will rise. We chose ourselves, and only ourselves.

Is white privilege such an enticing thing to us that we’ll sell ourselves out just to protect what scraps we’re thrown?

Anyway, between dark money, voter suppression, and the number of voters willing to vote against their policy beliefs and interests, we’re in trouble as a nation.  The Democratic Party just bailed on Mary Landrieu and I’m about to get a Senator that wants to raise Social Security eligibility to age 70, privatize Medicare with vouchers,  and defund student loans.  This doesn’t even count that he voted no to hurricane relief for his own constituents after Hurricane Isaac. At this rate, every white person in the country should get a tube of astrolube with their ballot.  Bend over folks, cause you’ve done it to yourselves!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Tuesday Reads

woman-reading-porch

Good Morning!!

I have a mixture of links for you today, with no overall theme whatsoever. There is news happening out there, but somehow it still feels like a slow news month so far. Maybe it’s just because it feels like nothing is really happening that will change the “malaise” in the country, to use Jimmy Carter’s term. The economy doesn’t really seem to be improving for 90 percent of us, and the bottleneck in Congress feels unbreakable. So here are some stories that caught my eye.

From The New York Times: Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt.

A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.

Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said.

The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”

Read details about the two studies at the NYT link. Richard B. Alley, scientist not involved in the studies noted that what’s happening in Antarctica is only one source of future climate change disasters.

He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse gases will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.

“If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out,” Dr. Alley said. “But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”

So it’s not as if we actually have the rest of the century to deal with the problem. Maybe the right wing nuts should start building an ark.

Childe Hassam - Two Women Reading

From Politico: Chamber of Commerce gives ultimatum to GOP.

The GOP shouldn’t even field a presidential candidate in 2016 unless Congress passes immigration reform this year, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said Monday.

“If the Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016,” Donohue joked at an event on infrastructure investment in D.C. “Think about that. Think about who the voters are. I just did that to get everybody’s attention.”

Republicans have focused on an immigration overhaul as a way to woo Hispanic voters, who have increasingly drifted to Democrats over the past two election cycles. Growing Hispanic populations in Nevada, Texas and elsewhere could make those states more amenable to Democrats in the future.

Apparently, Donohue still thinks he can light a fire under the asses of the Tea Party nuts in the House. Good luck with that.

Politico also reports that John Boehner may be tiring of the frustrating job of Speaker of the dysfunctional House of Representatives: John Boehner can’t promise another 2 years as speaker.

The Ohio Republican, speaking to a luncheon here [San Antonio, TX] sponsored by a group of local chambers of commerce, said he can’t “predict what’s going to happen” and stopped short of fully committing to serving another full two-year term.

“Listen, I’m going to be 65 years old in November,” Boehner said. “I never thought I’d live to be 60. So I’m living on borrowed time.”

It’s extraordinarily rare for Boehner to sit down for an open-ended, live interview, but he did so here with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, a mainstay of the Lone Star State’s journalism scene. He touched on issues ranging from immigration to Benghazi to his quiet campaign to persuade Jeb Bush to run for president….

Boehner’s noncommittal response about his future will reverberate from here all the way back to Capitol Hill and K Street. His future has been a topic of constant chatter among political types. Even people inside his orbit privately wonder why the Ohio Republican would want to serve another term wielding the speaker’s gavel, given the tumultuous political climate in Washington. Last week, Boehner beat back two primary opponents to ensure his House reelection.

Much more interesting Boehner news at the link.

childe-hassam-french tea garden 1910

Texas plans to execute death row prisoner Robert James Campbell today, and they aren’t the least bit concerned about the recent horrifically botched execution in Oklahoma. From the NYT: Confronted on Execution, Texas Proudly Says It Kills Efficiently.

HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — If Texas executes Robert James Campbell as planned on Tuesday, for raping and murdering a woman, it will be the nation’s first execution since Oklahoma’s bungled attempt at lethal injection two weeks ago left a convicted murderer writhing and moaning before he died.

Lawyers for Mr. Campbell are trying to use the Oklahoma debacle to stop the execution here. But many in this state and in this East Texas town north of Houston, where hundreds have been executed in the nation’s busiest death chamber, like to say they do things right.

For two years now, Texas has used a single drug, the barbiturate pentobarbital, instead of the three-drug regimen used in neighboring Oklahoma. Prison administrators from other states often travel here to learn how Texas performs lethal injections and to observe executions. Texas officials have provided guidance and, on at least a few occasions, carried out executions for other states.

Even the protesters and television cameras that used to accompany executions here have, in most cases, dissipated. “It’s kind of business as usual,” said Tommy Oates, 62, a longtime resident who was eating lunch last week at McKenzie’s Barbeque, about one mile from the prison known as the Walls Unit. “That sounds cold, I know. But they’re not in prison for singing too loud at church.”

That’s Texas’ claim to fame now, I guess–efficient executions. Practice makes perfect.

The LA Times broke some news this morning about deceased alleged Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The paper has learned that the gun Tsarnaev use in a shootout with police in Watertown, Massachusetts a few days after the Marathon bombing was linked to a drug gang in Portland, Maine. 

When police confronted Tamerlan Tsarnaev four nights after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, he leaped from his car with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and opened fire….

The tale of that handgun, a black Ruger P95, Serial Number 317-87693, offers new insights into the Boston tragedy and holds warnings of other potential dangers.

Its journey from a street gang that peddled crack cocaine in Portland, Maine, to the grisly shootout in a Boston suburb tells much about illicit drug and gun trafficking in New England, and perhaps more about Tsarnaev.

Authorities believe Tsarnaev’s ties to the illicit drug trade in Maine helped finance his six-month trip to the southern Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in early 2012, where he became radicalized. Drug money, they say, also may have helped him buy components of the bomb that killed three people and injured more than 260 on April 15, 2013.

The Times learned about this from records “obtained” from the Justice Department records. The gun had originally been purchased legally by an LA man named Danny Sun, Jr. living in Portland, Maine. It’s not clear exactly how Tsarnaev got the gun, but the serial numbers had been fined down. Police were able to “raise” the serial number using with “forensic techniques.”

Curiouser and curiouser. Last June, I wrote a post in which I argued for a drug connection to the Tsarnaev brothers and a horrific September 11, 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts; but I suspected a connection with an international drug ring centered in Watertown, Waltham, and Newton. I have continued following this story closely for the past year. Now this. I don’t know what to think. I only know that this background of the Boston Marathon bombings is incredibly complex and mysterious.

woman-reading Childe Hassam 1885

I don’t know how many people have been following the latest discussions about net neutrality. This is going to be an important week in the fight between internet users and the Cable giants. Here’s the latest  from Radio survivor: FCC Chair Wheeler Shuffles Open Internet Deck Ahead of Meeting.

This is a tough week to be Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC. This Thursday he has an open meeting where he plans to present his Open Internet proposal to the full Commission. As details have come to light a very broad coalition of companies, organizations and legislators–from 150 tech firms like Netflix and Google to the ACLU and NOW–have expressed strong criticisms of it.

At issue are proposed rules that would permit some companies to pay internet service providers for a so-called fast-lane into consumers’ homes. No matter how much Wheeler has tried to assure everyone that the Commission will seriously police for instances where an ISP degrades content from competitors or sources that haven’t paid for an express lane, critics remain unconvinced. That’s because Wheeler’s proposed standard says “commercially reasonable” discrimination of internet traffic is OK, but “commercially reasonable” is a vague and ill-defined standard that seems to have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

Because of the backlash even two of his fellow Commissioners, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai, have called for a delay of Thursdays vote on the proposal. There is no indication that Wheeler is heeding their call.

Wheeler is actually talking about regulating the internet like a “common carrier,” like it does phone companies. In other words, internet provider would be treated like public utilities. I’m not holding my breath though. From Politico: Tom Wheeler scrambles to salvage net neutrality plan.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is on the clock and scrambling to salvage his controversial net neutrality plan as the commission counts down to a crucial vote on Thursday.

According to FCC officials, he circulated his latest revisions Monday — trying to pick up the two votes he needs to pass the notice of proposed rule-making to ensure an open Internet.

In the most significant change, Wheeler will seek public comment on whether the FCC should reclassify broadband as a communications utility, giving the agency authority to regulate Internet rates and services as it does with telephone companies, according to commission officials. Net neutrality advocates favor that option as more robust, but it’s opposed by telecoms that fear it will give the government too much power over their business.

Wheeler’s original plan sparked outrage after details emerged that it would allow Internet-service providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to charge companies like Netflix, Amazon and Google for faster delivery of content. The revised proposal keeps that basic approach but would seek comment on whether a “fast lane” should be banned. It also proposes a new ombudsman position at the FCC to act as a net neutrality advocate for startups and consumers.

So the “fast lane” is still included in the plan. I can’t see how that would be a benefit to ordinary internet users. I guess we should enjoy what we have for now, because the internet as we know it is in serious danger. This is an important story!

So . . . those are my offerings for today. What are you reading and blogging about?

 


Thursday Reads

tea on books

Good Morning!!

President Obama isn’t looking so “progressive” this morning (what else is new?). Yesterday, his “Justice” department announced they will ignore science as well as the health needs of women and girls by fighting a judge’s order to make Plan B emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age limits. NYT:

The appeal reaffirms an election-year decision by Mr. Obama’s administration to block the drug’s maker from selling it without a prescription or consideration of age, and puts the White House back into the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception.

The Justice Department’s decision to appeal is in line with the views of dozens of conservative, anti-abortion groups who do not want contraceptives made available to young girls. But the decision was criticized by advocates for women’s reproductive health and abortion rights who cite years of scientific research saying the drug is safe and effective for all ages.

“Age barriers to emergency contraception are not supported by science, and they should be eliminated,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In December 2011 the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, blocked the sale of the drug to young girls without a prescription, saying there was not enough data to prove it would be safe. In doing so, Ms. Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the Food and Drug Administration, which had moved, based on scientific research, to lift all age restrictions.

I could use some profane language here, but I’ll spare you for the moment. You may be mumbling to yourself too, after you read about Obama’s latest picks for the FCC and Commerce Department.

First the FCC. The New York Times reports: Telecom Investor Named to Be F.C.C. Chairman.

Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, knows all about the most advanced telecommunications systems — of the 19th century.

In his 2008 book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War,” Mr. Wheeler, an investor in start-up technology and communications companies, documents how Lincoln was an “early adopter” of what has been called “the Victorian Internet.”

Lincoln’s championing and advancement of popular uses of the telegraph are not unlike the challenges Mr. Wheeler is likely to face as chairman of the F.C.C., which is waging an intense battle to keep Internet service free of commercial roadblocks and widely available in its most affordable, up-to-date capabilities.

Mr. Wheeler’s qualifications for “one of the toughest jobs in Washington,” Mr. Obama said, include a long history “at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives.”

“He was one of the leaders of a company that helped create thousands of good, high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Core Capital Partners, the Washington investment firm where Mr. Wheeler is a managing director. “He’s in charge of the group that advises the F.C.C. on the latest technology issues,” adding that “he’s helped give American consumers more choices and better products.”

They look happy, don't they?

They look happy, don’t they?

But does all that qualify Wheeler to protect consumers at the FCC? From Ars Technica:

Uh-oh: AT&T and Comcast are ecstatic about the FCC’s new chairman: AT&T calls new chairman an “inspired pick,” seeks end to “outdated” regulations.

President Barack Obama today announced his choice to run the Federal Communications Commission. As reported yesterday, the nominee is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist who was formerly a lobbyist at the top of the cable and wireless industries, leading the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

The nomination continues the parade of lobbyists becoming government officials and vice versa, a trend that has favored moneyed interests over the average American citizen and consumer time and again. One can take solace in the fact that Wheeler will be tasked with implementing the communications policies of President Obama, who says he is eager to fight on behalf of consumers and to maintain thriving and open Internet and wireless marketplaces.

But the same President who said “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over” when he was running for office has given the FCC’s top job to a former lobbyist. Wheeler donated $38,500 to Obama’s election efforts and helped raise additional money for Obama by becoming a “bundler,” arranging for large contributions from other donors after hitting legal limits on personal contributions.

Not surprisingly, the cable and telecom companies that Wheeler springs from are ecstatic about the nomination.

Gotta get rid of those nasty regulations that protect Americans from price gauging, internet censorship, and all that bad stuff.

Penny Pritzker

Penny Pritzker

Next up, behold Obama’s nomination for Commerce Secretary, old pal Penny Pritzker.

Making official what many Democrats have expected for weeks, President Obama plans to nominate Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker, a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser, as his new Commerce secretary on Thursday morning.

Pritzker’s nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family.

With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans. She is the founder, chair and CEO of PSP Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and its affiliated real estate investment firm, Pritzker Realty Group. She played an influential role in Obama’s rise from Illinois state senator to the nation’s 44th president, serving as Obama’s national finance chair in his first campaign for the White House and co-chair of his reelection campaign.

The president is expected to make the announcement at 10 a.m. at the White House.

If confirmed by the Senate, Pritzker would take charge of the administration’s efforts to build relations with business leaders who were often on the sharp end of the president’s first-term rhetoric.

Sigh . . .

This next story is guaranteed to make your blood boil. Bloomberg reports:

It’s been almost three years since Congress directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose the ratio of their chief executive officers’ compensation to the median of the rest of their employees’. The agency has yet to produce a rule.

So Bloomberg decided not to wait around any longer and figured out the ratios for us. See the chart at the above link. More:

Ron Johnson

CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple of Wages Skirts U.S. Law

Former fashion jewelry saleswoman Rebecca Gonzales and former Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson have one thing in common: J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) no longer employs either.

The similarity ends there. Johnson, 54, got a compensation package worth 1,795 times the average wage and benefits of a U.S. department store worker when he was hired in November 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Gonzales’s hourly wage was $8.30 that year.

Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, theaverage multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009, the data show. The numbers are based on industry-specific estimates for worker compensation.

Almost three years after Congress ordered public companies to reveal actual CEO-to-worker pay ratios under the Dodd-Frank law, the numbers remain unknown. As theOccupy Wall Street movement and 2012 election made income inequality a social flashpoint, mandatory disclosure of the ratios remained bottled up at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which hasn’t yet drawn up the rules to implement it. Some of America’s biggest companies are lobbying against the requirement.

“It’s a simple piece of information shareholders ought to have,” said Phil Angelides, who led the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the economic collapse of 2008. “The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes.” The lobbying is part of “a street-by-street, block-by-block fight waged by large corporations and their Wall Street colleagues” to obstruct the Dodd-Frank law, he said.

Are you angry yet? These greedheads are going to keep pushing the envelope until Americans wake up and take to the streets with pitchforks and dust off the guillotines.

My birthplace, North Dakota is changing rapidly–and maybe not in a good way. It turns out the state’s oil is even more plentiful than anyone has realized up till now.

The sea of oil and natural gas underneath North Dakota is far larger than first thought.

There are 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the western part of the state and extending into Montana, according to the latest estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey.

That’s more than twice the oil the USGS estimated could be recovered five years ago. What’s more, the USGS has nearly tripled its estimate of the natural gas available in the area.

The revised totals could make the North Dakota field the greatest oil and gas find ever in the continental United States, topping the fabled East Texas field that made Texas synonymous with oil wealth. And it would put North Dakota second to Prudhoe Bay as the largest oil producer in U.S. history.

And even this estimate may have to be “revised upward”:

“We think it’s even a little bit conservative,’’ said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

The new estimate will give fresh momentum to an economic boom within the state that has made it the fastest growing in the nation in both population and incomes. Per capita income has risen to $52,000 a year, sixth-highest in the nation, and once quiet farm towns have been overwhelmed by oil field workers, creating shortages of housing and services.

The USGS said the drilling of 4,000 wells since 2008 in what is known as the Bakken formation has given geologists a better idea of the riches underground. The new analysis also highlights the rapid ascent of North American oil and gas production driven by the advent of the technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

I guess I’m happy about the new jobs and population growth, but it will be sad if North Dakota no longer has clean air and vast open spaces.

Four shallow chop marks on the top of the girl’s skull, evidence of cannibalism during the “starving time” over the winter of 1609-1610. (Smithsonian Institution / Don Hurlbert)

Four shallow chop marks on the top of the girl’s skull, evidence of cannibalism during the “starving time” over the winter of 1609-1610. (Smithsonian Institution / Don Hurlbert)

You may have heard about this fascinating story–it was up toward the top of Google News much of yesterday. Archaeologists have found strong evidence that Starving Settlers in [the] Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism. From Smithsonian Magazine:

The harsh winter of 1609 in Virginia’s Jamestown Colony forced residents to do the unthinkable. A recent excavation at the historic site discovered the carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the season commonly called the “Starving Time.” But a few other newly discovered bones in particular, though, tell a far more gruesome story: the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.

“The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. “Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.”

Much is still unknown about the circumstances of this grisly meal: Who exactly the girl researchers are calling “Jane” was, whether she was murdered or died of natural causes, whether multiple people participated in the butchering or it was a solo act. But as Owsley revealed along with lead archaeologist William Kelso today at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History, we now have the first direct evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the oldest permanent English colony in the Americas. “Historians have gone back and forth on whether this sort of thing really happened there,” Owsley says. “Given these bones in a trash pit, all cut and chopped up, it’s clear that this body was dismembered for consumption.”

There’s much more at the link.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a great day!


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

We made it through the Solstice on Wednesday so summer is officially here! The days get shorter and the nights get longer from here on out! What’s on your summer reading list?

My first read of the summer is going to be Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  I’m also planning on avoiding the heat by watching the entire first season of Treme.

More evidence shows that the economy is not improving because of the negative impacts of state and local spending.  Layoffs of Public Workers are harming the recovery.

Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its postrecession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 706,000 jobs. The losses appeared to be tapering off earlier this year, but have accelerated for the last three months, creating the single biggest drag on the recovery in many areas.

With the economy expanding, albeit slowly, state tax revenues have started to recover and are estimated to exceed prerecession levels next year. Yet governors and legislatures are keeping a tight rein on spending, whether to refill depleted rainy-day funds or because of political inclination.

At the same time, costs for health care, social services, pensions and education are still rising. Fourteen states plan to resolve their budget gaps by reducing aid to local governments, according to a report by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.

So while the federal government has grown a little since the recession, and many states have recently begun to add a few jobs, local governments are making new cuts that outweigh those gains. More than a quarter of municipal governments are planning layoffs this year, according to a survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. They are being squeezed not only by declining federal and state support, but by their devastated property tax base.

“The unfortunate reality is our revenue streams have not rebounded,” said Timothy R. Hacker, the city manager of North Las Vegas, which has cut its work force to 1,300 from 2,300 and is about to lay off 130 more. “Shaking this recession is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Some folks have been suggesting that the Fed should do something “out of the box” since it is politically impossible to stimulate the economy through good fiscal policy right now.  Should the Fed start buying SLGS and monetize state debt? 

The Fed can legally buy as many municipal bonds as it wants without congressional approval. Talk about burying a lead. This is a big story. Blanchflower is essentially saying that the U.S. government can bail out both the housing market via Fannie and Freddie paper purchases and the state governments via Muni purchases. And, of course, the banks get to dump these assets onto the Fed who will hold them to maturity. I guarantee you this will have a very nice kick since it is the state’s where the biggest employment cuts are. This is the Fed doing fiscal, friends

This is an interesting idea and one worth exploring.

The economic models are telling us that we need more stimulus. Lowering interest rates and more fiscal stimulus are out of the question. Quantitative easing remains the only economic show in town given that Congress and President Barack Obama have been cowed into inaction.

The major questions about quantitative easing aren’t so much if, but how much will the Fed buy and of what type? There is little point in moving slowly. So $100 billion a month for six months seems a reasonable amount.

What will they buy? They are limited to only federally insured paper, which includes Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But they are also allowed to buy short-term municipal bonds, and given the difficulties faced by state and local governments, this may well be the route they choose, at least for some of the quantitative easing. Even if the Fed wanted to, it couldn’t buy other securities, such as corporate bonds, as it would require Congress’s approval, which won’t happen anytime soon.

Republicans have been trying to change our lexicon for years now.  George Lakoff and Elizabeth  Wehling write on “Why Conservatives Sell their  Wildly Destructive Ideology Better Than Democrats”.

Perhaps the most important omission from the Obama speech was any overt mention of The Public — everything that our citizenry as a whole provides to all, e.g., roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, protection, a health system, and systems for communication, energy development and supply, and so on. The Private — private life and private enterprise — depends on The Public. There is no economic freedom without all of this. So-called “free enterprise” is not free. A free market economy depends on a strong Public. This is a deep truth, easy to recognize. It undercuts Romney’s central pitch, that is it private enterprise alone that has made our country great, and that as much as possible of The Public should be eliminated.

Romney calls free enterprise “one of the greatest forces of good this world has ever known.” In reality, America free enterprise has always required The Public.

Romney attacks The Public, speaking of “the heavy hand of government” and “the invisible boot of government.” The contrast is with the putative “invisible hand” of the market — which leads to the good of all if everyone follows their self-interest and the market’s natural force is not interfered with. Romney’s “invisible boot” evokes the image of a storm trooper’s boot on your neck. The government is the storm trooper, your enemy. You are weak and in an impossible position. You can’t move — a metaphor for being held back and not being able to freely engage in the economy. Romney uses the frame consistently: “The federal establishment,” he says,” has never seemed so hostile.” The Public is an “establishment” — an undemocratic institution — which is the enemy of the people. It is implicit in this frame that the government is not the people.

The Supremes  overruled the FCC’s swearing ban in a decision this week.

According to MSNBC, a ruling by the Supreme Court Thursday waived fines and sanctions against ABC and Fox, saying the Federal Communications Commission did not give them fair notice before punishing them over brief instances of curse words and nudity.

The ruling (PDF), which does not affect the FCC’s overall policy toward profanity, centered on outbursts by Cher and Nicole Richie on live awards shows on FOX and a brief instance of partial nudity shown on ABC’s NYPD Blue.

“Because the Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent, the Commission’s standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the unanimous decision, adding that the FCC was free to revise its current policy “in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements.”

Aung San Suu Kyi and His Holiness the Dalai Lama had a chance to meet in the UK.

THIS week two Nobel-peace-prize laureates, both international figures of inspiration, find themselves visiting Britain: the leader of Myanmar’s (ie Burma’s) opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi; and also the Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. On June 19th, in London, the two met.

The rendezvous, not publicised on either of their official schedules, was disclosed by the Dalai Lama’s office on Twitter only the next day, where it was described simply as “a private meeting”. The Dalai Lama, who had previously called for Miss Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest, is reported to have told her “I have real admiration for your courage.” He also gave her his blessing, as one Buddhist to another. The obvious backdrop to any such blessing would be the separate political struggles of Myanmar and Tibet. The two places have a certain neighbour in common.

China’s leaders will not be happy to learn of the meeting. The Dalai Lama’s ten-day visit to Britain has given fresh occasion for China to denounce him. In a further measure, the Chinese Olympic committee threatened to withdraw some of its athletes from training in England. The Dalai Lama shrugged off all this as “routine”. He is as accustomed to acting as a hate figure for the Chinese government as he is to being a symbol of hope to many people elsewhere.

So, that’s a little this and that to get us started this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?