Monday, July 29, 2013

Honey, The Garbage Disposal is Broken

Spent a great deal of my day putting in a new food disposal for the sink. I was kind of happy when the old one died as it was a cheapo they put in new construction houses. It's dying sound was HMMMM. So I reset it moved the blades around and it still sounded like a sick Mazda engine. I purchased a new one with the main concern of quiet in our fairly open plan house. I went by a video on the internet in removing the old one. Some things were more difficult than their "simply loosen the bolt" stuff, but basically it went fine. Then a second trip back to the store to buy plumbers putty... 1.97 for about 20 times what I needed... think they might have included 20 cents worth of putty in the kit?  Everything went well but it took a while. I turned it on and HMMMMMM....except....this hum is a sound of a correctly installed "quiet" working food disposal. I thought it was still broken.... I scrambled around for old food to dispose and magically, with almost no noise, it disappeared.

I feel very satisfied. Great day off starting with a note on the fridge that said, "Honey, the garbage disposal is broken."

The Crescendo of Scandalous Crises Mode: Epilogue

The Crescendo of Scandalous Crises Mode: Epilogue

The legitimate rebuttal. The none too lonely other side of the debate, as of today:

Major opinion shifts, in the US and Congress, on NSA surveillance and privacy:  Pew finds that, for the first time since 9/11, Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism  The Guardian

Noam Chomsky "Snowden Should Be Honored for Telling Americans What the Government Was Doing"  clip from YouTube

Ron Paul: House leadership voted for ‘police state’ Washington Times

Greenwald: Low-level staff have access to ‘invasive’ surveillance Washington Post

So it goes. My vote didn't count for whatever happens...

The Crescendo of Scandalous Crises Mode: Part 5, The End

The last part of this series, as to why I think it is more important to worry about the loss of our right to vote than whatever the NSA is doing, is relatively easy. And I have really had it with the whole discussion so I will go as quickly as I can. I have come to terms, as I said in my last entry. My vote for the presidency is meaningless. While it has been pointed out that I may stretch an analogy once in a while, I am not exaggerating here. Odds are you do not live in a swing state where your vote has meaning either. A minority of citizens choose our executive AND our judicial branch of government, by extension.

Because of the winner take all method that most states choose in apportioning the electors in the electoral college, the election comes down to a few states and is not representative of the majority. Each state chooses it's election rules, purging of voting lists, and decided on the use and counting of those butterfly ballots upon which Pat Buchanan polled amazingly well among people intending to vote for Al Gore.

It is incredibly important that a democracy in which every person has one vote is not the method of the election of our highest office, but even at the primary level of selection we have very little voice. Iowans count a lot, for instance, and because of that we burn food to fuel our cars and muck up their engines.

Really, as this blog is only roughly truthy, as it was meant, with tongue in cheek, I want to say here and now that I am particularly pissed about my own lack of voting rights. Forget the recent supreme court decision encouraging voter suppression. My vote has never counted regardless of the length of line I stood in or whatever threats and hoops I had to bypass or jump thru. (I use the short version of "through" to hurry thru with this damnable blog entry that will change nothing.)

You see, I live in Alabama. While my presidential vote is completely meaningless because all the electors will vote GOP, I can look forward to the primary. But by the time it is our time to vote, the list of candidates has been winnowed out by such a strange process of money and influence, and states vying for television exposure by moving up dates, and really a complete anarchy of insanity.... that last year, I almost did not vote. It was not worth the 5 minutes it now takes me to vote. But there was Obama and if there is one president in my lifetime that I love on a personal level it is this man.

Attack him as you will, but I remain putty in his hands. I have even lost my respect for Jimmy Carter over him. Perhaps Jimmy was a twit after all and everyone was right after all.

What happened in my life was this: I actually started viewing African Americans, or whatever title they end up with, as my friends, true deep down total friends. I shook Barack Obama's hand once during the primaries but that did not come close to the day following the election. I have never been so affected by an event in history. I went to work the next day in a cloud. I was ten feet off the ground. I didn't really connect with African Americans that day as they seemed to be going about their daily business. Perhaps the younger folks knew the totality of what had just happened but I did not see the true boundless joy I felt. As I was closing the computer area of the library at about 9 pm, a lady about 10 years older than me was still in there. She was black. I walked by her doing my job but stopped and said "This was quite possibly the most extraordinary day I have ever had in my life."  She looked at me and said "Yes, yes it was."

I am not the one to criticize, say, the views of Noam Chomsky that I read today in support of what I feel is a rather rash rush to judgement. And by gosh, I realize the importance of treating Obama just like any other president.

I just like the guy. I trust the guy way more than I trust the folks who will benefit from the destruction of his second term and I decry the precedent setting war on presidential second terms, as it appears will always be the future strategy of the party not in power. OUR SYSTEM SUCKS.

I trust this guy more than any other president I have known.

I was never blinded so that I could not see the continuation of Gitmo, the near non-change in the Iraq war, the ramping up of the Afghanistan War, or the exponential increase in our use of drones to assassinate people from the sky without due process.  I voted for Obama the second time fully aware of these things and the industry building around security from terrorism and the spying that this would necessarily logically mean. I wasn't stupid. I watch Frontline, I do my research. What Snowden revealed with factual data was no surprise to me. What he probably makes up for the press would surprise a little, but I still would advocate very careful consideration before actually publically castrating our ability to stop terrorism

And what happened that day after Obama was elected completely changed my viewpoint on the world including African Americans. I see their kids are just like I was when I was a young man, more so than I do the kids of any other group of people. I lost a bit of my outsider status that day and my relationships with all people, whether on Facebook or in real life, have grown (I have to use a word twice) exponentially. That day was the most positive day of my life. The moon landing was beat solid.

I knew I would be here typing on my Chromebook till the wee hours of the morning. But at least I didn't run away with the boring details of the complete and utter failure of our electoral college system. This plus what I have outlined in the other four parts tells the story of what I feel outrage should address rather than our current system of security which after all was built by men we "voted" into office. I encourage you to prioritize your outrage.

I am happy I veered off into tangents at the end. I really am tired of arguing. Tangents make up my life. And this blog IS the bread of my life, after all.  2007 2011

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Crescendo of Scandalous Crises Mode: Part 4

I admit I have been delaying long enough about continuing this series. I really find it distasteful. Since it has been awhile, let's recap. The NSA thing bothered me because it came at the tale end of one scandal after another thrown at President Obama from the right wing. Then suddenly, I could not believe my eyes that liberals were climbing on the Anti-Obama "kill his second term" bandwagon. As I said, I am a pragmatic person. The Presidency controls a great deal of power and I don't want it in the hands of a party that has by observation been at their looniest moment since I have been alive. And yes I realize the Dems voted for the Iraq War, in a momentary hysteria of magnificent proportion. But again, that looney tune party were right there as the party that had all the fear factor to whip the dems in line. And honestly, all of them were doing what the American public wanted, in general.

So I have shown how totally messed up the Senate is. And as I said before, when confronted with a government that is trying to protect me from terrorists by whatever methods of surveillance, I really want a vote (and have it proportionate to the number one) to work with. I want my voice heard.  I hesitated a long time on the issue of the gerrymandering of the House, because, honestly, I just did not want to do the research.

I have come to terms with the fact that the American public (or at least the ones I frequently read, am in touch with, or am most familiar with) have decided that privacy concerns trump protection from terrorists for the time. They felt the opposite after 9/11. And terrorist attacks are massive movers of public opinion. Attacks can and will happen especially if we do not protect ourselves and the pendulum could and would swing back to the post 9/11 fear side of the equation if something catastrophic were to happen. Further, if it were to happen on Obama's watch, then all the things Cheney said about not voting for Obama because Obama would be weak on terrorism, all this crap would be perceived as true and well... you can see the ramifications.

Also, Snowden is a twit. Have I said that? :)

Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here is an article (in the format of Elroy's Homework, one other blog of mine) that shows how my representation in the House is obscenely lacking:

Fix Congress: Overturn Vieth v. Jubelirer!

Photo by Mike Licht

OK House Republicans—I give up. Since you've been the majority the only thing you've accomplished is naming things after Reagan and voting to repeal Obamacare an unprecedented—let alone unreasonable—38 times. Seriously, you've done nothing. Even Congresses that set out to do nothing and were dubbed “Do-Nothing,” look like overachievers by comparison.

Last Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Speaker Boehner said, “We should not be judged by how many new laws we create, we ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

Well, you haven’t repealed any laws either. So even when you throw out the measurements by which we usually judge the merits of Congress and just make up your own—you’re still a national disgrace.
Why is Congress so horrible? Why is the Ebola virus held in higher esteem in most polls than the Legislative Branch? One word: Gerrymandering.

Basically, through a solidly and proudly partisan process our representatives have carved out districts to protect incumbency. So your congressperson doesn't have to work, be effective or listen to constituents—they just have to be a congressperson.

In 2011, when the dysfunction of Congress was noted as the primary reason Standard & Poors downgraded the United States' credit rating for the first time in history, gerrymandering was the reason nobody got voted out. The fix is in and Congress gets to cash their government paychecks.

“The concept of equal justice under law requires the State to govern impartially,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissenting opinion in the 2004 landmark 5-4 decision, Vieth v. Jubelirer.

Norma Jean, Richard Vieth and Susan Furey were plaintiff-appellants in the case. These Pennsylvania Democrats claimed that the Pennsylvania General Assembly (specifically Robert C. Jubelirer, President of the Pennsylvania Senate) had unconstitutionally gerrymandered their districts, violated Article I of the U.S. Constitution (one-person, one-vote) and denied them protection under the Eighteenth Amendment.
The case hinged on whether gerrymandering was justiciable (able to be decided by the courts). Five justices said it was not. No one penned a majority opinion.

In the minority, Justice Stevens wrote, “Today’s plurality opinion would exempt governing officials from that duty in the context of legislative redistricting and would give license, for the first time, to partisan gerrymanders that are devoid of any rational justification.”

Justice Stevens wins for the most prescient statement about our current, self-quagmired Congress.
Stevens also cited the 1964 decision Reynolds v. Sims, which forced state legislative districts to have equal populations: “Legislatures...should be bodies which are collectively responsive to the popular will.”
After Reynolds there was a Republicans-led fight to pass a constitutional amendment allowing unequal legislative districts. Their amendment failed. But their goal has been realized: Voter disenfranchisement through manipulated districts.

Since Congress doesn't have to adhere to popular will—it’s no shock they don’t. A majority of Americans want them to work together. A majority of Americans want health insurance regardless of preexisting conditions (as in Obamacare). A majority of Americans want infrastructure spending. A majority of Americans want the government to not nationalize women’s bodies. A majority of Americans want a higher minimum wage. A majority of Americans want comprehensive immigration reform. And clean air. And affordable higher education. And regulated banks.

A majority of Americans (1.4 million more) voted for Democrats and yet we still have an anarcho-Republican majority whose sole pastime is to play chicken with the general welfare of the country.
Congress is disincentivized from compromising, working together, or really working period. Congress can cynically put party before country to the detriment of us all as much as they please. And they clearly, under the “leadership” of John Andrew Boehner, have done just that.

Americans are the ones without jobs, pensions and savings. Congress is safe. See? They really don’t represent Americans.

Overturn Vieth v. Jubelirer. Kill the Gerrymander. Fix Congress.
 See more at:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ponsonby Britt; or, A Matter of Perspective

Narrator: Well, today we find our heroes flying along smoothly...
Rocket J. Squirrel: Flying along smoothly?
Bullwinkle J. Moose: You're just looking at the picture sideways!
Rocket J. Squirrel: Actually it's like this! [screen turns 90 degrees]
Narrator: Oh... OH GOOD HEAVENS! Today we find our heroes plunging straight down toward disaster at supersonic speed!
Bullwinkle J. Moose: That's better.

Here is a current headline and subhead from CNET:

Microsoft: U.S. Constitution is 'suffering' from NSA secrecy

A strongly worded letter from Microsoft's general counsel to Attorney General Eric Holder says secrecy about National Security Agency surveillance is harming fundamental "constitutional principles."   link

The "news" in this headline should be obvious if you have read any of the Microsoft articles of the past week. They were all like this.

Yet this week is somehow different and CNET has the distinction of showing both sides of the story in their article while at the same time putting both sides under an attention grabbing statement that shows only one side of the story.

Before today, most of the media's Microsoft headlines and articles simply told the "evil" NSA side of the story, just like this CNET headline does. Actually, I don't think the media had the second side of the story yet. All of last week there were articles with headlines just like the one above, with Rocky and Bullwinkle plunging to their death!

Yet, here is today's "business" version of events from PC World (emphasis mine):

Microsoft: We don't give NSA direct access to email

Microsoft does not give the National Security Agency direct access to its customers’ email or instant messages, contrary to previous news reports, a company executive said.

News reports last week suggested that Microsoft has helped the NSA circumvent the company’s own encryption in order to conduct surveillance on email accounts through, but company General Counsel Brad Smith said Tuesday that’s not true.
“We do not provide any government with direct access to emails or instant messages,” Smith wrote in a blog post. “Full stop.”

The company does not help government agencies circumvent its encryption, he added. “To be clear, we do not provide any government with the ability to break the encryption, nor do we provide the government with the encryption keys,” he wrote. “When we are legally obligated to comply with [government] demands, we pull the specified content from our servers where it sits in an unencrypted state, and then we provide it to the government agency.”

Microsoft on Tuesday asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to permit Microsoft and other communications providers to share “more complete information” about how they handle national security requests for customer information, Smith added.

“We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us,” he said. The U.S. government has not responded to a June 19 request Microsoft made to publish the number of national security requests it receives, and the company hopes Holder will step in, Smith said.

Microsoft provides government access to data stored in its SkyDrive service and to Skype calls when presented with a legal order to do so, such as a search warrant or national security letter, Smith said. If asked for customer data in enterprise email or document storage, Microsoft attempts to redirect the requesting government agency back to the customer, he said, “and we notify the customer unless we are legally prohibited from doing so.”

Microsoft has never provided any government with customer data from any business or government customers for national security purposes, he said. In 2012, the company complied with four law enforcement requests related to business or government customers, he added.   link

All of the things Microsoft says it does not do are actually things we assumed they did after reading the articles last week. The secret that Microsoft was pulling out all of the plugs to reveal was that all communication is NOT being monitored. All along, Microsoft only wanted to communicate THIS to it's business customers. Microsoft wanted them to know that Microsoft was not looking in on their business goodies or sharing their secrets. 

It is probably tough running an email/search service (where the public probably matters a little) while at the same time selling secure data services to businesses (where the public matters very little.)

So, last week there were headlines and stories that reported Microsoft to be jumping on the bandwagon against secrecy in government. Yippee, even Microsoft agrees with us that the NSA is too secretive and spying on all of us. Everyone assumed that meant Microsoft was criticizing the NSA in the same way we have heard ad nauseum from the far left. Violating our rights, they were! Reading all of our emails at will, tapping our phones at will.

Today, a quick screenshot of Google News stories now shows only CNET still going with the Rocky and Bullwinkle plunging to their death scenario.

Well actually no... of course, the Guardian walks that middle path of insinuation. The Guardian is not one to give up on the plotline of the great service their Snowden scoop has done for us. They have done us a great favor by revealing the ways we find terrorists, regardless of the consequences to possible future victims of terrorist attacks.

Just to summarize: last week Microsoft was using heavy weaponry to attack the administration over secrecy. They were saying the Constitution was the issue! They sounded like Fox News in reverse. (Incidentally, the far left is beginning to have a penchant for going with their gut instead of facts these days as well.) However, in fact, all Microsoft wanted to tell us about was that there is no grand conspiracy to tap our phones and read our email. Obviously, there was a concern among their business customers and Microsoft risked losing the big bucks. 

I can see a few potential things to consider:

1. Edward Snowden has been exaggerating to upvote his creds. I have been saying this all along. I'm sure there might be some unpleasant moments at the NSA over the need for secrecy and the need for constitutionally warranted search. But I'm guessing their activity is nothing near the scale of what Edward Snowden has been orally describing. I'm sure there are problems when confronting congress with secrets, but I also think congress is a sieve with the sad lot that are in there. I hold to this idea. Snowden looks like a little pissant, going with my gut. :)

2. Perhaps Microsoft has schizophrenia. Microsoft is possibly lying about the conspiracy it has with the NSA and at the same time is risking everything by actually accusing the NSA of being too secretive about said conspiracy....maybe to throw us off track?  (cough, cough, I had to note this possibility.)

3. Secrecy is important to catching criminals and terrorists. It hardly works if you tell Al Capone "We are tapping your phone and we are going to do a search of your house this coming Wednesday. Be prepared. We will be looking in the drawers and behind the sofa."

4. Keeping secret things the NSA is not doing is just as important as keeping secret the things they are doing. For instance, in wartime, the first thing we now do is take down communications with bombs. We can can also guess that it is extremely difficult to take aggregate data (which the NSA admits to doing) and deduce who the terrorist is. Sharing any methods our nation uses will show our limits and venerability.

 I can really only show this by example: Let's say that you want to communicate from terrorist headquarters to terrorist cell. Well, you could call them on the cell phone (oh yes I love puns) or use a land line. But if you believed that every call was being monitored you might have to nix the phone idea and send someone in person to relay the message. Satellites can actually see people traveling from here to there. Despite the fact that we did not monitor their phone, terrorists believing that we were monitoring it had to limit their communication and thus possibly causing them just enough trouble to force their hand. I just made that scenario up but you can see that sharing information of our methods and the limitations of our methods only helps the bad guys.

And the bad guys are quite possibly capable of doing far more than we have so far experienced. The risks are virtually astronomical with the weapons that might be used. This fact, though you may have thought Bush Jr. overplayed it to become king, is logically correct.

5. I also guess that the silence of the Obama administration (which makes them look weak) must be there to protect our safety. Historically, I have hated hearing words like  "it is a matter of national security" especially when those words were coming out of the mouths of Nixon and Bush Jr. Yet, I don't hear these words from the Obama administration. I just hear silence. To me, this is kind of like Obama taking it on the chin for the gipper, our security.

6. A totally off the wall guess is that Microsoft had the corporate power to break the wall of silence. The story about how the NSA does not have direct access to emails must have been recently vetted by the NSA. While this hard won angelic Microsoft image wasn't going to effect Microsoft's long lost battle with Google over public emails and public searches, it WAS going to help the business enterprise side of Microsoft's fading empire. 

7. And it is possible that the NSA can read every email and tap any phone call without the help of any telecommunications company. For phone calls, I know very little about the process, but there are a lot of telephone lines. For emails, somehow they can track all those bits of data following multiple paths and decrypt them without knowing the decryption key. They are possibly hacking Microsoft, I cannot quite imagine them doing this and am sure they do not likely have the staff necessary to make listening to all of this traffic viable. Still, what do I know...and thankfully, what do the terrorists know? 

Microsoft has no intention of taking it on the chin and remaining quiet like the people who actually care about our security. The first shots across the bows of the Obama administration were designed to intimidate and threaten. The media did their part in "misinterpreting" the story. Will Microsoft be given permission to say all the things about what the NSA is secretly NOT doing. Stay tuned next week for Full Court Press Assured; or, Microsoft Gets Hacked Into Micro Pieces.