You are browsing the archive for 2015 May 08.

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News of Stephen Colbert's Generosity Goes Viral, Spurs More Donations Nationwide

May 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Scout Finch, Daily Kos

The comedian's action has sparked real change.

News of Stephen Colbert's surprise announcement that he was teaming with to fund every single teacher-requested grant in South Carolina went mega-viral yesterday. All the attention to the story brought about something else rather extraordinary—readers funding teacher-requested grants nationwide. Reddit users were particularly keen to help and as of last night, these projects were funded:

- FL Kindergarten teacher needs a carpet $147 to go

- NC Middle School Teacher needs calculators $169 to go

- NYC ESL teacher needs basic supplies $195 to go

- MO teacher needs basic supplies $128

- Louisiana teacher needs copies of “Of Mice and Men” $298 to go

- NC teacher needs basic supplies $92 to go

- NY teacher needs industrial pencil sharpener $168 to go

- MA teacher needs STEM activities $193 to go

- NYC teacher needs calculators $99 to go

- NYC teacher needs basic supplies $175 to go

- Las Vegas teacher needs copies of Dr. Suess $122 to go

- IN teacher needs roll down maps $179 to go

- TX teacher needs a rocket launcher $337 to go

- Louisiana teacher needs a microscope $131 to go

- Chicago teacher needs music for band $235 to go

- NC Math teacher needs basic supplies $507 to go

- NC middle school teacher needs science lab materials $484 to go

- CA teacher needs AP Bio supplies $1279 to go

- NYC teacher needs basic supplies $121 to go

- Philly teacher needs basic supplies $233 to go

- NC teacher needs copies of “To Kill a Mockingbird” $476 to go

- TX teacher needs basic phys ed supplies $444 to go

- FL teacher needs recess supplies $145 to go

- Philly teacher needs copy paper $203 to go

- MI teacher needs a set of Hardy Boy Books $189 to go

- OR mobile library for special needs students needs books $130 to go

- NYC teacher needs STEM books $310

- NYC teacher needs first grade books $299

- OH Preschool teacher to deaf students needs educational toys $158 to go

- WA teacher needs play equipment $324 to go

- CA special ed teacher needs playdoh $118 to go.

- Baltimore teacher …read more


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The Latest Outrageous Example of the Pentagon, DEA and Private Companies Conspiring to Track Everything You Do

May 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Bill Blunden, AlterNet

Guess what the malware software is really for?

Yet another report has surfaced describing how tools created by the companies selling software that can damage and hack into people's computers are being deployed by U.S. security services. While the coverage surrounding this story focuses primarily on federal agencies it’s important to step back for a moment and view the big picture. In particular, looking at who builds, operates, and profits from mass surveillance technology offers insight into the nature of the global panopticon.

A report published by Privacy International as well as an article posted by Vice Motherboard clearly show that both the DEA and the United States Army have long-standing relationships with Hacking Team, an Italian company that’s notorious for selling malware to any number of unsavory characters.

Federal records indicate that the DEA and Army purchased Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS) package. RCS is a rootkit, a software backdoor with lots of bells and whistles. It’s a product that facilitates a covert foothold on infected machines so intruders can quietly make off with sensitive data. The aforementioned sensitive data includes encryption keys. In fact, Hacking Team has an RCS brochure that tells potential customers: “What you need is a way to bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain.” Note: Readers interested in nitty-gritty details about RCS can check out the Manuals online.

It’s public knowledge that other federal agencies like the FBI and the CIA have become adept at foiling encryption. Yet this kind of subversion doesn’t necessarily bother high tech luminaries like Bruce Schneier, who believe that spying is “perfectly reasonable” as long as it’s targeted. Ditto that for Ed Snowden. Schneier and Snowden maintain that covert ops, shrouded by layers of official secrecy, are somehow compatible with democracy just so long as they’re narrow in scope.

But here’s the catch: RCS is designed and marketed as a means for mass collection. It violates the targeted surveillance condition. Specifically, a Hacking …read more


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Obama Gets Called Out For Trade Deal Secrecy – By A Right-Wing Republican

May 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

Grassroots pushback from both left and right on TPP has the President in an awkward spot.

President Obama is in Oregon today at the headquarters of Nike to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging agreement between 11 countries and the United States that would expand investor and corporate rights at the expense of workers and the environment.

In order to get Congressional approval for the TPP, Obama is seeking what is called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or Fast Track. This would allow him to submit the agreement in full to Congress and require them to approve it or reject it without amendments. But first Obama must get Congress to pass a TPA bill to be granted that authority.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a notoriously right-wing pol who is most known for his anti-immigrant views, threw a wrench into the plans for TPA by sending an open letter to Obama that echoes many of the same concerns that progressives have: that TPP negotiations are totally secret and that the agreement may have a negative impact on jobs.

Here's an excerpt from his letter:

You have asked Congress to approve fast-track legislation (Trade Promotion Authority) that would allow international trade and regulatory agreements to be expedited through Congress for the next six years without amendment. Fast-track, which proponents hope to adopt within days, would also ensure that these agreements—none of which have yet been made public—could pass with a simple majority vote, rather than the 67 votes applied to treaties or the 60 votes applied to important legislative matters. […]

The U.S. ran a record $51.4 billion trade deficit in March, the highest-level recorded in six years. This is especially concerning since assurances were made from the Administration that the recent South Korea free trade deal would “increase exports of American goods by $10 billion to $11 billion.” But, in fact, American domestic exports to Korea increased by only $0.8 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent, while imports from Korea increased $12.6 billion, an increase of 22.5 percent. Our trade deficit with …read more


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3 Disturbing Questions Concerning This Video of an Officer Punt-Kicking a Black Man In the Face

May 8, 2015 in Blogs

By Shaun King, Daily Kos

Everything about this video is wrong, awful, illegal, and disgusting.

Everything about this video is wrong, awful, illegal, and disgusting. That's Lateef Dickerson on his hands and knees in front of Dover, Delaware, police officers.

Suddenly, Officer Thomas Webster, like an NFL punter, unloads a kick on Lateef's face, knocks him out cold, and breaks his jaw. The video is disturbing. Below it, though, I'll raise three questions that show just how broken the system truly is that allowed this assault to happen.

1. This video was filmed almost two years ago. The police refused to release it. It was only released after the ACLU filed multiple lawsuits and a federal judge forced them to release it.

What sincere justification exists for concealing this video for two years?

2. In March of 2014 a grand jury declined to indict Officer Webster for any crime whatsoever.

Did this grand jury see the video that we see now? If not, why? If so, how in the world could they not have indicted Webster for assault?

3. Even with the video, Officer Webster almost escaped justice for this crime. Nonetheless, it's clear that the video is the only reason new charges were filed and Webster was arrested.

What national standards need to be in place concerning law enforcement videos such that departments are not able to conceal them for years at a time? Had this video been released immediately, the officer would've likely been arrested immediately.

…read more


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Freakish Fish Cancer at Susquehanna River Has Environmental Experts Worried

May 8, 2015 in Blogs

By AlterNet Staff, AlterNet

It's the first confirmed case of cancer in a smallmouth bass in the river's documented history.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission confirmed eariler this week that two independent laboratory tests found a malignant tumor on a single smallmuoth bass in Susquehanna River in Eastern Pennsylvania  – a first in the river's documented history. According to the Washington Post:

A smallmouth bass caught in the Susquehanna River has a cancerous tumor, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission confirmed this week. Cancer is rare in fish, and the finding adds to an existing concern among wildlife officials about the health of fish living in the region.

Officials started noticing lesions on local bass in 2005, Arway said, and have been petitioning the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ever since to get the Susquehanna River included on the EPA's list of “impaired waterways.” That campaign so far has been unsuccessful.

Catch-and-release regulations have been put in place and, according to NPR, authorities are warning people to “avoid consuming fish that have visible signs of sores and lesions.”

The  EPA and state authorities are at odds as to the extent greater environmental protections can be of use:

The state DEP did not include the region as an affected site in its most recent biannual report in 2013.

In response, the EPA said it did not have enough information to determine whether the waterway belonged on the list, and left it off. “Although we share the continuing concerns about the health of the smallmouth bass population,” the agency said in a statement to NPR, “we do not have sufficient data at this time to scientifically support listing the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired.”

Details as to the cause of the cancer are expected as more testing is done. In the mean time, local affiliate WNEP reports that many Susquehanna River fisherman are spooked. You can watch their report here.

h/t Washington Post / WNEP 

…read more


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Happy Birthday, F. A. Hayek

May 8, 2015 in Economics

By David Boaz

David Boaz

Today is the 116th anniversary of the birth of F. A. Hayek, one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century.

Back in 2010, as the tea party movement was on the verge of delivering an electoral rebuke to President Obama’s big-government policies, the New York Times derided the movement for reviving “long-dormant ideas [found in] once-obscure texts by dead writers.” They meant Hayek especially. But a more astute journalist might not have regarded Hayek as obscure.

Who was Hayek? He was an economist born and educated in Vienna. After the Nazi conquest of Austria, he became a British citizen and taught there and at the University of Chicago for most of his career. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974. President Ronald Reagan called him one of the two or three people who had most influenced him, and so did some of the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. President George H. W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Margaret Thatcher banged his great book “The Constitution of Liberty” on the table at Conservative Party headquarters and declared “This is what we believe.” Milton Friedman described him as “the most important social thinker of the 20th century.”

Today is the 116th anniversary of the birth of F. A. Hayek, one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century.”

But respect for Hayek extended far beyond libertarians and conservatives. Lawrence H. Summers, former president of Harvard and a top economic adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama, called him the author of “the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today” — that markets mostly work without plans or direction. He is the hero of “The Commanding Heights,” the book and PBS series on the battle of economic ideas in the 20th century. His most popular book, “The Road to Serfdom,” has never gone out of print and saw its sales explode during the financial crisis and Wall Street bailouts. John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker that “on the biggest issue of all, the vitality of capitalism, he was vindicated to such an extent that it is hardly an exaggeration to refer to the 20th century as the Hayek century.”

In much of his work Hayek explored how society can best make use of “the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”

When we see an orderly process, we naturally …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Wealth Gap Rhetoric in the Face of Reality

May 8, 2015 in Economics

By James A. Dorn

James A. Dorn

French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-seller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has given widespread attention to the rising gap between the world’s rich and poor, and to populist calls for government action that lead to more equal distributions of income and wealth.

That rhetoric, however, overlooks the reality that any major state role in leveling income-wealth differences risks eroding economic freedom, which is the true engine of economic progress for all people.

Income and wealth are created in the process of discovering new markets and extending the public’s range of choices. Evident reality points to significant differences among people in abilities, motivations, entrepreneurial talents and personal circumstances. These differences are a basis for comparative advantages and gains from voluntary exchanges in a private, free market. Both rich and poor gain from free markets; trade is not a zero- or negative-sum game.

Attacking the rich, as if they commit crimes, and calling for state action to bring about a “fairer” distribution of income and wealth leads to an ethos of envy rather than one that supports private property, personal responsibility and freedom.

When state power trumps free markets, choices are narrowed and opportunities for wealth creation lost.”

In an open-market system, people who create new products and services prosper, as do consumers. Entrepreneurs create wealth and choices. The role of the state should be to safeguard property rights and let markets flourish. When state power trumps free markets, choices are narrowed and opportunities for wealth creation are lost.

Throughout history, governments have discriminated against the rich, ultimately harming the poor. Central planning should have taught us that replacing private entrepreneurs with government bureaucrats merely politicizes economic life and concentrates power; it does not widen choices nor does it increase income mobility.

Peter Bauer, a pioneer in development economics, recognized early on that “in a modern, open society, the accumulation of wealth, especially great wealth, normally results from activities which extend the choices of others.”

A government has the power to coerce, but private entrepreneurs must persuade consumers to buy their products and convince investors to support their vision. The process of “creative destruction,” as described by Joseph Schumpeter, means that dynastic wealth is often short-lived.

Bauer preferred to use the term “economic differences” rather than “economic inequality.” He did so because he thought the former would convey more meaning than the latter. The rhetoric of inequality fosters populism and even extremism in the quest …read more

Source: OP-EDS