By a bipartisan vote of 68-26, the Wisconsin state Assembly has approved AB-110, a measure requiring beneficiaries of SNAP -- known in Wisconsin as FoodShare, or more colloquially as food stamps -- to spend at least 2/3 of their monthly benefits on items from "a list of state-defined healthy foods" [PDF]. [more inside]
EFF's Who Has Your Back? for 2013. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published the 2013 edition of their analysis of how well your private data is protected from the government by about a dozen big internet companies. Also available as pdf. Focused on the US, but may apply elsewhere, too.
Even before it was enacted, the United States House and Senate voted unanimously to repeal a provision within the STOCK Act, a bill aimed at curbing insider trading among senior government officials. The repealed provision required that financial disclosure forms were accessible online. [more inside]
The ACLU reports that the IRS claims in an internal document that it has the authority to access citizens' online communications without a warrant. The IRS claimed in a 2009 document that "the Fourth Amendment does not protect communications held in electronic storage, such as email messages stored on a server, because internet users do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications." It still retains that position even after the 2010 case of US v Warshak which determined that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such communications. [more inside]
You know, Stingrays killed the Crocodile Hunter... During the case of United States v. Rigmaiden it was revealed that the DOJ had been using Stingray cell phone trackers concealed in other warrants/without explicit warrants. [more inside]
Economists and the theory of politics - "why unions were often well worth any deadweight cost" [more inside]
Leaving the Witness. "In one of the most restrictive, totalitarian countries in the world, for the first time in my life, I had the freedom to think." [more inside]
seaQuest: what if we could learn to live on/underneath the oceans (or in orbit)? [previously(er)] [more inside]
Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does.
Dissent Is the Health of the Democratic State - "We live in big, complex societies, which means we are thoroughly interdependent on each other, and that we will naturally have different ideas about how our life in common should go, and will have divergent interests. This means that politics we shall always have with us. It also means that political problems are largely ones about designing and reforming the institutions which shape how we interact with each other..." (via) [more inside]
Open States, the latest project of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, is an easy to navigate comprehensive database of activities from all state capitols that makes it easy to find your state lawmaker, review their votes, search for legislation, track bills and much more.
In America, a politician should not appear too literate; in France, he should not appear overly interested in sums. A sort of spiritual innumeracy is required to prove that he is a serious person. “Economics is considered an obstacle to ideology, a constraint politicians prefer to avoid if they can,” Chamboredon said. Politicians in France speak to “citizens,” not to “taxpayers.” - The New Yorker: France’s anxiety about the budget crisis has fuelled resentment of the country’s most renowned tax exile.
BBC/NRI reports that women in China are being labeled "sheng nu" or "leftover women" after the age of 27. Beyond the traditional family pressure to get married, the Chinese government is applying pressure on single women to get married, fearful that a growing population of single men could cause civil unrest. [more inside]
Mother Jones reports on the damage done to Florida by two years of tea party governance, and on the difficulty of repairing it.
It is June 2, 2010 and Mark Zuckerberg is sweating. He’s wearing his hoodie—he’s always wearing his hoodie—and he’s on stage and either the lights or the questions are too hot. … “Do you want to take off the hoodie?” asks Kara Swisher.The varied cultural resonances of an unassuming garment.
“I never take off the hoodie.”
On Dec 14th, Gene Rosen found six kids "sitting in a neat semicircle at the end of his driveway. He ran upstairs and grabbed an armful of stuffed animals. He gave those to the children, along with some fruit juice, and sat with them as the two boys described seeing their teacher being shot." Now he's getting phone calls and emails from Sandy Hook Truthers who think that the shooting in Newtown was a government sponsored hoax. [more inside]
What's Going On In Japan? "Really Japan is quite a remarkable case, since neither fiscal nor monetary policy seems to be working to achieve the anticipated results. This year Japan will have a fiscal deficit of around 10% of GDP and gross government debt will hit 235% of GDP, yet the country is still struggling to find growth. Instead of reiterating old dogmas (whether they come from Keynes or from Hayek) more people should be asking themselves what is happening here. This is not a simple repetition of something which was first time tragedy and is now second time tragedy, it is something new, and could well be a harbinger for more that is to come, elsewhere. Oh, why oh why are economists not more curious?" [more inside]
Income based repayment is touted as a solution to rapidly rising college costs in the US. But there is a hefty tax bill looming for people who take advantage of this program.
'Homeland,' Obama’s Show. The award winning TV show does little to alleviate the myths and misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims, writes Joseph Massad, a scholar at Columbia University. "The racist representation of Arabs is so exponential, even for American television [..] that one does not know where to begin." [more inside]
Popular “prediction market” Intrade is shutting its doors to US Customers, following a suit (filed post-election fortunately) by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Some see this as inevitable, given their history of dissembling to regulators. Other (predictably) see it as another restriction of internet freedom. [more inside]
Are Social Impact Bonds a good way to invest in public services? "Imagine a contract where private investors are paid by the government if there's a decrease in homelessness or convicts re-offending. It's a an idea that's taking shape in the UK and some US states. And now the Canadian government is considering piloting social impact bonds. Critics say it's a way of governments shirking their responsibilities." CBC's "The Current" reports. [more inside]
RT @CoryBooker: "We have a shared responsibility that kids go to school nutritionally ready 2 learn"
Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, will spend a week or longer living on food stamps, in response to a Twitter user who told him that, quote, "nutrition is not a responsibility of the government." [more inside]
Congress Floor Charts (SLTumblr)
"Used to be that the idea was 'once every two years voters elected their representatives.' And now instead it's 'every ten years the representatives choose their constituents.'"
Obama won Ohio by two points, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won by five, but Democrats emerged with just four of Ohio’s 16 House seats. In Wisconsin, Obama prevailed by seven points, and Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin by five, but their party finished with just three of the state’s eight House seats. In Virginia, Obama and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were clear victors, but Democrats won just three of the commonwealth’s 11 House seats. In Florida, Obama eked out a victory and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won by 13 points, but Democrats will hold only 10 of the Sunshine State’s 27 House seats. The Revenge of 2010: How gerrymandering saved the congressional Republican majority, undermined Obama's mandate, set the terms of the sequestration fight, and locked Democrats out of the House for the next decade. It's not a new problem. But if the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act, it could get a whole lot worse. And the electoral college may be next. (What's gerrymandering, you ask? Let the animals explain. Meet the Gerry-mander. Peruse the abused. Catch the movie. Or just play the game. Previously.)
Surveillance Camera Man (SL Vimeo) is a man who acts like a surveillance camera. However, he is not ceiling-mounted like most surveillance cameras. He takes video of people in public and private places. Most people have a problem with him, creating conflict. One person actually likes him.
"When the lights go out for good, my people will still be here. We have our ancient ways. We will remain."
In the Shadow of Wounded Knee. Along the southwestern border of South Dakota is one of the most poverty-stricken places in the United States—the Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota people. After 150 years of broken promises, they are still nurturing their tribal customs, language and beliefs. Via [more inside]
Trade-offs between inequality, productivity, and employment - "The poor do not employ one another, because the necessities they require are produced and sold so cheaply by the rich. The rich are glad to sell to the poor, as long as the poor can come up with property or debt claims or other forms of insurance to offer as payment..." [more inside]
Years of labour peace between the government of Ontario and teachers came to an end this year. Like their colleagues in British Columbia, Ontario teachers and support staff are complaining of unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional legislation -- the Putting Students First Act, 2012 -- that gives the Education Minister, Laura Broten, unchallenged power to ban strikes, job actions, set compensation and benefits, and to take over local school boards who are non-compliant. Ontario school boards are unanimously opposed to the Act, which reduces their power, and so are teachers and support staff, who feel the government is manufacturing a crisis. Most see this as a cynical ploy to capture public support for two by-elections this week that could nudge the Liberal government into majority status. ETFO and OSSTF, two of the teacher unions involved, have repeatedly pointed out that "the school year is not in jeopardy", that they had already accepted a wage freeze, and that local bargaining is proceeding well. As legislation looms aheads, teachers, support staff, and labour activists are wondering: is this the end of collective bargaining for the public sector? [more inside]
824,273 disabled veterans are currently awaiting a response on claims from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. On average, it takes the government 257 days to respond, and there has been a 7.2% growth in claims over the last 1.3 years -- so the delays are growing. While they wait, veterans often cannot access health care from the agency or receive disability compensation. Plus, the backlog on claim appeals is at least 3.5 years. So how can veterans avoid the backlog? A special investigation by the Bay Area Citizen shows that processing speed is a matter of geographic location: veterans in sparsely populated areas have their claims filled faster than those living in urban centers. Interactive Map: Where is Worst Backlog? Related video and transcript.
Tunneling in any dense urban environment is an expensive proposition, but the $5 billion price tag for just the first two miles of the Second Avenue subway cannot be explained by engineering difficulties. The segment runs mainly beneath a single broad avenue, unimpeded by rivers, super-tall skyscraper foundations or other subway lines. American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much. Amtrak is just as bad. Its $151 billion master plan for basic high-speed rail service in the Northeast corridor is more expensive than Japan’s planned magnetic levitating train line between Tokyo and Osaka, most of which is to be buried deep underground, with tunnels through the Japan Alps and beneath its densest cities. - U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs
Start Your Own Currency - "In the Catalonia region of Spain, a restaurant and a community garden are part of an experiment in alternative cash--they are accepting a home-grown currency called the Eco as well as the Euro." [viz. gated article (Google link), cf. The Wörgl Experiment]
Twiplomacy is the first-ever global study of world leaders on Twitter. The governments of almost two-thirds of the 193 UN member countries have a presence on Twitter: 45% of the 264 accounts analysed are personal accounts of heads of state and government, but just 30 world leaders tweet themselves and very few on a regular basis. This study shows that while the social network invites direct interaction between users, few world leaders take advantage of this opportunity to develop connections.
Last year, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's Law School released a report (pdf) detailing new, more restrictive state laws that affect voting rights and are likely to impact the outcome of the 2012 elections. The restrictions "fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities." On August 3rd, 2012, they updated their analysis with a pdf of passed and pending State government legislation. Their conclusion: after a century in which the United States "expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation... that momentum [has] abruptly shifted." [more inside]
Paul Ryan. Seven-term congressman for Wisconsin's 1st District. Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. Architect of the controversial Ryan Budget -- a "Path to Prosperity" [PDF - video - CBO] that would slash trillions from the federal budget, sharply curtail taxes on the wealthy, and transform Medicare into a private voucher system. Proponent (vid) -- and renouncer -- of Ayn Rand 's Objectivism. Social Security beneficiary. Hunter. Weinermobile driver. And as of this morning, the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States of America. [more inside]
“We’re getting a lot of calls from high earners who are asking whether they should get out of France,” said Mr. Grandil... “Even young, dynamic people pulling in 200,000 euros are wondering whether to remain in a country where making money is not considered a good thing.” French president François Hollande's plan to tax income above a million euros ($1.24 million) a year at 75% is alarming some.
"[T]he corrupting influence of money is the first problem facing this nation. That unless we solve this problem, we won’t solve anything else... The Framers, Lessig says, had just one kind of dependence in mind for members of Congress: a dependence on the people. He quotes The Federalist (the then-anonymous essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay that are often used as a contemporary account of the Framers’ intentions) to make this point: number 52 describes the House of Representatives as that “branch of the federal government which ought to be dependent on the people alone” (emphasis added). But in the last two decades, Lessig writes, members of Congress have developed a fearsome dependency: campaign cash. The total amount spent on campaigns by all candidates for Congress in 2010 was $1.8 billion. Fundraising has become a way of life..." (via 3 Quarks Daily)
Earlier this year, six scientists and doctors filed a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration alleging that the FDA had secretly monitored their personal e-mail accounts after they (legally) warned Congress that the "agency was approving medical devices that they believed posed unacceptable risks to patients." The agency said it had done so to "investigate allegations that the employees had leaked confidential information to the public." At the time, the FDA indicated their computer monitoring was limited to five scientists. But now, the New York Times is reporting that "what began as a narrow investigation" "quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process.". [more inside]
In July 2007, NPR published a two part series (direct links: 1, 2) about a four year old uninvestigated rape case at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Sparked in part by a 2006 report (pdf) from Amnesty International that included a startling statistic: "One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime," NPR's investigation led to the reopening of the case and Congressional hearings. In February 2011, Harper's published an update of sorts: Tiny Little Laws: A Plague of Sexual Violence in Indian Country (Via)
In less than an hour, the Supreme Court will hand down its final judgment in what has become one of the most crucial legal battles of our time: the constitutionality of President Obama's landmark health care reform law. The product of a strict party line vote following a
year century of debate, disinformation, and tense legislative wrangling, the Affordable Care Act would (among other popular reforms) require all Americans to buy insurance coverage by 2014, broadening the risk pool for the benefit of those with pre-existing conditions.
The fate of this "individual mandate," bitterly opposed by Republicans despite its similarity to past plans touted by conservatives (including presidential contender Mitt Romney) is the central question facing the justices today. If the conservative majority takes the dramatic step of striking down the mandate, the law will be toothless, and in danger of wholesale reversal, rendering millions uninsured, dealing a crippling blow to the president's re-election hopes, and possibly endangering the federal regulatory state.
But despite the pessimism of bettors, some believe the Court will demur, wary of damaging its already-fragile reputation with another partisan 5-4 decision. But those who know don't talk, and those who talk don't know. Watch the SCOTUSblog liveblog for updates, Q&A, and analysis as the truth finally comes out shortly after 10 a.m. EST.
"The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal: A Fortune investigation reveals that the ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust." [more inside]
In Praise of Leisure - "Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.' Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all... He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years — that is, by 2030." (via) [more inside]
"Dwarfing even the $2 trillion borrowed for the Railway Ministry’s high-speed networks since 2008, and the thousands of kilometres of 4–6 lane toll roads with barely a vehicle on them, China’s building binge is the most striking example of what Prime Minister Wen Jiabao famously, but impotently, denounced in 2007 as the country’s “unbalanced, unstable, uncoordinated and unsustainable” model of economic development. Now, with house prices and sales sagging in response to government restrictions aimed at deflating history’s biggest ever property bubble, and with local governments as deep in bad debt as the developers, I asked the businessman what was to prevent the bubble actually bursting, in a spectacular financial explosion? "
Ironically, the only people on the internet now defending forcing people to sleep under a bridge are trolls.
In the midst of the Jubilee celebrations, the Guardian reported that coachloads of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed in to steward the Queen's river pageant without pay as part of the UK government's controversial new Work Programme. Jobseekers were made to sleep under London Bridge and given “no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift”. [more inside]
This weekend, TAL ran an episode on the massacre at Dos Erres. What they didn't mention was that this happened as part of the "Silent Holocaust" -- a "systematic campaign of genocide against the Mayan people." An estimated 83% of the massacred people were indigenous Maya. Throughout the period of the genocide, the USA continued to provide military support to the Guatemalan government, mainly in the form of arms and equipment, despite knowing that the Guatemala military was responsible for the killings. Horatio Castellanos Moya, an exiled Honduran writer, wrote Senselessness, his first book to be published in English, based on the testimonies taken by the Catholic Church's Recuperation of History project, which led to Bishop José Gerardi Conedera releasing the Guatemala: Never Again! report. Two days later, he was bludgeoned to death.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators.
How Corporations and Local Governments Use the Poor As Piggy Banks. Barbara Ehrenreich (previously) talks about how the cycle of poverty is perpetuated by wage theft, municipal/criminal fines, and debtors prisons.