Posted: June 10, 2013 | Author: dakinikat | Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Blue State, Joan Walsh, Noam Chomsky, passive americans, Philadelphia, Philadelphia building collapse, Red State, republican modernity gap, Robert Reich, Will Bunch |
One of the things that really amazes me when I talk to folks on either ends of the political spectrum is that both think that our republic is falling prey to self-dealing politicians and corporations that exist only to take from tax payers. The themes are somewhat different when it comes to the associated concerns but the overall vision of a country and great democracy in decline appears shared. I often wonder why very few of either see the real dangers but focus more on the silly stuff. We have had some pretty astounding portends of our Huxleyian future. It seems we have met the enemy and he is indeed us to borrow from that old Pogo cartoon.
I read this astounding take on the collapse of the building in Philadelphia by William Bunch at his blog at The Inquirer. It is called “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s an apt lede for nearly everything these days from our infrastructure to our national security policy.
To be clear. the collapse here in Philadelphia of the four-story building was no metaphor — it was a senseless, heartbreaking tragedy that was all too real for people who were shopping for bargains in a Salvation Army thrift store one minute and trapped in a mountain of rubble the next. But the building collapse did seem to be the the epitome, at least here in Philadelphia, of a week that had the feel from start to finish of things falling apart, of the old foundations collapsing and no one sure exactly which of the many suspects is to blame — or what, if anything, will replace them.
Much like the Santa Monica shooting, the news locally that some 3,700 Philadelphia school employees are getting pink slips, the first step in transforming the remaining schools from places of learning to oversized child warehouses, floated away into the weekend ether, In the past, such a move would be seen as a mere bargaining ploy, but in 2013 the sense is growing that no one can stop this tragedy, that Philadelphians have become powerless bystanders watching our schools fall down in slow motion — very much like the citizens who called help lines and begged for someone to stop the shoddy demolition at 22nd and Market.
Nationally, the news was dominated by a serious of revelations — initiated, we now know, by a courageous whistleblower named Edward Snowden — that the U.S. government’s scooping up of data about its everyday citizens — who we’re calling on the telephone, now long we talked for, and possibly whom we’re talking to overseas on the Internet via sites like Facebook or Google — is much more extensive than all but the most cynical among us expected, or feared.
Nothing about the deadly demolition of a blighted four-story building at the edge of downtown looked right. That’s what the people who had watched it in the days and weeks before the collapse told me.
In fact, everyone I spoke with said something seemed off – way off.
Everyone, apparently, except the city that issued a demolition permit for a building owned by infamous king of porn and serial slumlord Richard Basciano. The permit was issued to Philadelphia architect Plato Marinakos for Griffin Campbell Construction – led by a demolition boss who in addition to a criminal record, also has a history of violations on other properties he’s worked on.
Despite obvious red flags, the city is claiming everything was on the up and up, the demolition company had proper permits, the workers were certified, blah, blah, blah.
But I wonder how workers can be vetted when permits are issued through a middleman? And I wonder what, if any, oversight the project had? And I wonder if anyone from L&I ever inspected the site?
If anyone was monitoring the site, neighbors and construction workers said they missed some obvious signs of trouble.
Workers weren’t wearing hard hats.
They were trying to tear down the building in the dark with sledgehammers and flashlights.
And union carpenters working nearby said the wall that eventually collapsed wasn’t braced properly.
The demo was so screwed up, they said, they were literally waiting for the building to collapse.
And it did, apparently killing six people and hurting 13 others who had to be rescued from the rubble.
Yup. We see it all coming and then we watch as it keeps happening. Joan Walsh believes we Americans are a passive lot these days.
On Thursday night the National Journal released a poll showing that 85 percent of those surveyed believed it was “likely” that their “communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use,” was “available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access without your consent.” The steady drip, drip, drip of detail about our ever-expanding national security state has led all of us to protect ourselves a little with a kind of tired cynicism about it.
And I think there’s more to the indifference, even by a lot of liberals, to this latest news than just “it’s OK when our guy does it.” Partly, we blame ourselves. Probably every one of us has thought from time to time about how exposed we all are, from our cellphones to email to the Internet “cloud” to all of social media — and then we go about our business using all of it because it’s all so damn awesome. And so, on some level, we feel partly culpable. We always knew, or suspected, all of this was possible — and went on doing it anyway.
We know our cellphone signal lets us be tracked, which sometimes seems creepy, but seems excellent when you can activate “Find My Phone” to locate your iPhone in the cab where you dropped it last night, or find the best Japanese restaurant near your current location on Yelp. We all scream when Facebook changes its privacy settings without notice – but very few of us close our accounts in protest. We are tweeting our outrage from our Sprint smartphones, Googling to find out whether Sen. Obama really flip-flopped and voted to authorize the way the Bush administration was using FISA in 2008 (he did), then G-chatting with our editors about when we’re filing our stories on all of it.
There’s a strong Calvinist impulse in the American psyche: So often, Americans blame themselves for their troubles. If I worked harder, maybe I wouldn’t have lost my job. I should have stayed in school. If I hadn’t gotten so drunk, I wouldn’t have been date-raped. If I wasn’t strutting all over social media like a strumpet, and so tied to my iPhone, addicted to my email, they wouldn’t have so much data on me. We shouldn’t have walked down that dark data alley; it’s not like we weren’t warned.
Again, it’s like people have the sense of something going all wrong but have their focus on the wrong thing. Walsh talks about the blinders of partisan democrats above. Republicans have a brand that denies more of reality. Lloyd Green–at the Daily Beast–calls it a “Modernity Gap”.
… a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.
Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term.
Exhibit No. 2: Erik Erickson, the founder of RedState, mansplained to Fox News’ incredulous Megyn Kelly this week that “when you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.”
Exhibit No. 3: Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s first-term governor, blamed working mothers for American illiteracy.
Exhibit No. 4, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss attributed rape in the armed forces to hormones.”
The real problem, though, is not stray and scatterred comments. Rather it is that such comments speak to the party’s discomfort with modernity.
Notice how much of these examples are aimed at women and have a distinct religious fanaticism about them. I wanted to actually not make this a depressing post, but I find myself ending with more than a bit of a nihilistic headline from Noam Chomsky who asks: “Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?” However, his post looks at places where people are doing something.
In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.
Perhaps it is time we here in the US took similar action. Rather than accepting this march to the destruction of our privacy, our identities and our freedoms, we should do what we can where we are. Here are the things we need to change via Robert Reich. Most are the result of the Reagan mindset that our government is the problem. However, his list shows that the red states are getting worse while the blue states are showing signs of moving the other direction. Is geography destiny in this country once again?
Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.
Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”
But the trend raises three troubling issues.
First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.
Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.
Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.
A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.
Just some things to think about. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
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Posted: June 6, 2013 | Author: bostonboomer | Filed under: Barack Obama, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bush administration, Church Rock spill, cystic fibrosis, domestic spying, Ed Markey, FBI, Gabriel Gomez, Glenn Greenwald, Gloria C. MacKenzie, Kathleen Sibilius, lung transplant, Massachusetts Senate race, National Security Agency, Navajo Nation, NSA, Patriot Act, Philadelphia building collapse, powerball, Sarah Murnaghan, uranium mines |
Glenn Greenwald got a big scoop in the Guardian yesterday, and for once even the corporate media in the U.S. is covering it. Not that any of us is really safe from government spying, but if you’re a Verizon customer you now know that all of your phone records are being handed over to the FBI and the NSA. Here’s the top secret court decision. Greenwald writes:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.
Good thing they’re not recording the content of my calls with Verizon customers; because if the government spies had to listen to what we talk about, they’d probably be bored to tears.
From Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt at The New York Times:
The four-page order was disclosed Wednesday evening by the newspaper The Guardian.Obama administration officials at the F.B.I. and the White House also declined to comment on it Wednesday evening, but did not deny the report, and a person familiar with the order confirmed its authenticity. “We will respond as soon as we can,” said Marci Green Miller, a National Security Agency spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
The order was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under a section of theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates domestic surveillance for national security purposes, including “tangible things” like a business’s customer records. The provision was expanded by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The order was marked “TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN,” referring to communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets in the federal government, and its disclosure comes amid a furor over the Obama administration’s aggressive tactics in its investigations of leaks.
The collection of call logs is set to expire in July unless the court extends it.
The collection of communications logs — or calling “metadata” — is believed to be a major component of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance that took place without court orders. The newly disclosed order raised the question of whether the government continued that type of information collection by bringing it under the Patriot Act.
This morning the White House is defending the order for Verizon phone records. From Politico:
The Obama administration is defending itself against charges it secretly obtained records for Verizon phone calls made in the United States, arguing that the policy is a vital tool in monitoring terrorists and has the approval of “all three branches of government,” according to a senior administration official.
“On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls,” a White House official said. “The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.”
Still, the White House official declined to confirm the legitimacy of the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order published Wednesday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which described a wide sweep of Verizon calls both domestic and international by Americans by the National Security Agency.
“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the official said.
Six people are now reported dead and fourteen injured in the collapse of a building in Philadelphia yesterday, according to Reuters.
Six people were killed and 14 were injured yesterday when a four-story building under demolition collapsed in downtown Philadelphia, burying a neighboring thrift store in concrete and debris, officials said.
Search and rescue efforts continued into the night for more victims of the collapse, which occurred around 10:45 a.m. EDT, and Mayor Michael Nutter suggested at a late night news conference that the number of casualties could rise.
“We still do not know how many people were inside the thrift store or possibly on the sidewalk” at the time of the collapse, Nutter said. “If someone else is in that building, they will find them.”
Shortly after the mayor concluded his press briefing a 61-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble alive, more than 12 hours after the collapse, and taken to a hospital in critical condition….
Dozens of police and firefighters were still sifting through the chunks of concrete and splintered wooden boards past midnight, the scene lit by large spotlights as residents stood by watching. Several streets remained blocked off.
When I first heard about this, I thought it was a controlled demolition and wondered why the area hadn’t been cleared of people first. Apparently, the collapse was completely unexpected.
One witness, 31-year-old Dan Gillis of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, a construction worker on a job across the street, said he saw a crane remove a supporting beam from the front of the building and then the wall next to the thrift store started swaying.
Jeffrey Fehnel, 48, of Philadelphia, said a backhoe hit the rear side of the building at about the same time.
“The building came down. It was like a big blast,” Fehnel told Reuters.
It sounds really scary.
An 84-year-old retired woman from Maine collected the second-biggest Powerball jackpot in history yesterday in Florida.
When Gloria C. MacKenzie went to a Florida supermarket near Tampa last month to buy a Powerball ticket, another person in line did something nice for the 84-year-old widow.
‘‘While in line at Publix, another lottery player was kind enough to let me go ahead of them in line to purchase the winning Quick Pick ticket,’’ she said in a statement Wednesday.
The nice gesture turned out to be a life-changing one for MacKenzie and her family. She came forward Wednesday to claim the biggest undivided lottery jackpot in history, $590 million.
A retiree from Maine and a mother of four who lives in a modest, tin-roof house in Zephyrhills, Fla., where the lone winning ticket in the May 18 drawing was sold, MacKenzie took her prize in a lump sum of just over $370 million. After federal taxes, she is getting about $278 million, lottery officials said….
MacKenzie bought the winning ticket at a Publix supermarket in the town of about 13,300, which is 30 miles northeast of Tampa. It is best known for the bottled spring water that bears its name — and now, for one of the biggest lottery winners of all time.
The family of a dying ten-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis yesterday won the chance to live with an adult lung transplant after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibilius declined to make a rule exception for her.
(CNN) — The father of a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who desperately needs new lungs told CNN on Wednesday night the family was “very excited” after a judge’s ruling that could help his daughter get a transplant.
Sarah Murnaghan’s father, Fran, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that his daughter, who has cystic fibrosis, has declined slightly in the last two days.
“But we’re very excited with the news today, that she will have the opportunity to be equally judged and have the opportunity to receive lungs,” he said.
On Wednesday, the family asked a federal judge to issue a restraining order to block U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from having the agency that oversees transplants apply a policy that keeps children younger than 12 from being prioritized for available adult lung transplants.
The judge granted the injunction and ordered Sebelius to direct the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to waive the rule in Sarah’s case. The injunction is valid for 10 days.
Last night Rep. Ed Markey and his Republican opponent Gabriel Gomez debated for the first time in the important Massachusetts Senate race. With so many Democratic senators retiring, there is a real danger that Republicans could take control of the Senate. From The Boston Globe: Gomez, Markey spar over D.C. gridlock, Benghazi
An aggressive Gabriel E. Gomez wasted no opportunity to mockingly highlight Democrat Edward J. Markey’s nearly four decades in Washington while Markey used the first debate of the US Senate race Wednesday to paint his Republican rival as dangerously out of step with Massachusetts values.
During an hourlong face-off, Gomez repeatedly sought to link his opponent to a Congress mired in dysfunction and deeply unpopular with voters. Markey countered those attacks by arguing that for all his claims of bipartisanship, Gomez would join a GOP that has lurched to the right on issues such as gun control and abortion.
Gomez had difficulty articulating a coherent position on abortion.
Gomez said he could support a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, saying that “is not asking a lot.” He also said he could vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who opposes Roe v. Wade.
“I don’t believe there should be a litmus test,” he said. “If a judge comes in front of me and they follow the Constitution, and they’re ethical, and they’re prochoice, and they’ve done a good job, I’ll vote for them. If they’re prolife, I’ll vote for them.”
At the same time, he sought to defuse the issue, saying that while he was “personally prolife,” he was not planning to go to Washington to make any changes in abortion rights law.
Markey scoffed at that assertion, arguing that the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade could jeopardize legalized abortion. He said he would not vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees who oppose abortion rights, saying that was the same test espoused by senators Edward M. Kennedy, Kerry, and Elizabeth Warren.
The special election to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat will be held on June 25.
I came across this scary article at Truthout yesterday: America’s Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World
Early in the morning of July 16, 1979, a 20-foot section of the earthen dam blocking the waste pool for the Church Rock Uranium Mill in New Mexico caved in and released 95 million gallons of highly acidic fluid containing 1,100 tons of radioactive material. The fluid and waste flowed into the nearby Puerco River, traveling 80 miles downstream, leaving toxic puddles and backing up local sewers along the way.
Although this release of radiation, thought to be the largest in US history, occurred less than four months after the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, the Church Rock spill received little media attention. In contrast, the Three Mile Island accident made the headlines. And when the residents of Church Rock asked their governor to declare their community a disaster area so they could get recovery assistance, he refused.
What was the difference between the Church Rock spill and the Three Mile Island partial meltdown? Church Rock is situated in the Navajo Nation, one of the areas in the US sacrificed to supply uranium for the Cold War and for nuclear power plants. That area and many others in the Navajo Nation are contaminated to this day. Another sacrifice area is the Great Sioux Nation, a region in the western part of the country comprising parts of 5 states, where thousands of open uranium mine pits continue to release radiation and heavy metals into the air, land and water.
This poisoning of the people in the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations has been going on for decades and has had serious effects on their health. Even today, it is unknown what the full effects are and what the impact is on the rest of the nation and world because the contaminated air and water are not limited by borders.
Please go read the whole thing.
Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.
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