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The Morning Grumpy – 5/1/13

1 May

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. Local writer Kevin Purdy details seven days without email.

Speaking of anxiety, why does nobody text me, chat me, or call me, four days after I took a no-email pledge? It seems like communication has, overall, died down. I seriously believe some people are treating this as if I were on vacation. Maybe that’s the only way we can collectively deal with someone who’s not responding to email and not a cloistered celebrity: assume they’re somewhere else. I wish I could say I was really somewhere else.

As a slave to one corporate email account, and five other accounts related to side projects and non-profit work and three personal accounts, I’ve begun to hate email. The process of checking multiple accounts, responding to constant requests for my time and attention, it’s fucking ponderous. I look forward to a time when email is no longer the preferred communication medium of choice and we simply send mental notes to one another through embedded 4G chips in our temporal lobe. At least I might respond to your email in a timely manner.

2. The Guantánamo memoirs of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He was kidnapped by CIA, tortured in Jordan, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, where he remains to this day. This despite calls from former military prosecutors and Federal judges for his release. His 466-page handwritten memoir of the torture, “classified” for 6 years, has now been released. Amnesty International had previously documented his case.

The Wikipedia page regarding his story is informative. As a federal judge wrote in 2010:

Salahi may very well have been an al-Qaida sympathizer, and the evidence does show that he provided some support to al-Qaida, or to people he knew to be al-Qaida. Such support was sporadic, however, and, at the time of his capture, non-existent. In any event, what the standard approved in Al-Bihani actually covers is “those who purposefully and materially supported such forces in hostilities against U.S. Coalition partners.” 530 F.3d at 872 (emphasis added). The evidence in this record cannot possibly be stretched far enough to fit that test

So, what to do? An Al-Qaeda sympathizer who has been rendered and tortured without direct evidence of his involvement in any terrorist activities is now stuck in a legal and moral limbo. If released, will the treatment he received from our government radicalize him further? Does it matter? Do we have the right to perpetually detain people who may commit acts of terror against America? These are the decisions left behind by the Bush Administration and will challenge our legal system and Constitution for decades to come.

3. Deloitte and Share our Strength have published a troubling report on the societal impact of childhood poverty in America.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a family is “food insecure” if it faces “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” In 2011, 17.9 million U.S. households were food insecure – 14.9% of all households in the country. More importantly, households with children are nearly twice as likely to be food insecure as households without children.

Across children of all ages, food insecurity is linked with lower academic achievement. Hungry children are sick more often and are 31% more likely to be hospitalized, at an average cost of approximately $12,000 per pediatric hospitalization. And food insecure children are 3.4 times more likely to be overweight or obese.

What kind of country are we living in?

4. The sorrowful state of American mental healthcare. In the 1950s, 1 in 300 Americans were being treated for their mental health in hospitals, today there’s one psychiatric bed per 7,100 Americans.  Absolutely astonishing. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut a total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets. According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, significant cuts to general fund appropriations for state mental health agencies have translated into a severe shortage of services, including housing, community-based treatment and access to psychiatric medications. “Increasingly, emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails are struggling with the effects of people falling through the cracks,” the report says, “due to lack of needed mental health services and supports.”

5. How conservative Christians have come to dominate the international child adoption circuit.

6. The Tea Party isn’t going anywhere, and that’s bad news for Republicans.

The survey asked FreedomWorks activists if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “When we feel strongly about political issues, we should not be willing to compromise with our political opponents.” Altogether, more than 80 percent agreed to some extent. Thirty-two percent of respondents “agree strongly” with the statement. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent disagreed even “slightly.”

Uncompromising ideologues unconcerned with compromise or winning bipartisan elections? Great, that’s also bad news for the rest of us.

Fact Of The Day: Glenn Burke, one of the first openly gay professional athletes, invented the “high five” which was a sign of gay pride and identification.

Quote Of The Day: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” – Abraham Lincoln

Video Of The Day: Scripted Disorientation

Song Of The Day: “Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae” – Stiff Little Fingers

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/30/13

30 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. Let’s get started, right after you take a piece of advice from a mallard.

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1. Local writer Brian Castner wrote a thoughtful article for The Daily Beast about guns in schools and a father’s desire to protect his children.

The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School restarted a long-delayed national debate about guns, and their proximity to children is on many more minds. The slaughter of young innocents, a war zone transported to small-town America, touched a nerve with an intensity that even other multiple homicides in workplaces and Sikh temples and movie theaters did not. In the last few months, gun control advocates saw an opportunity to finally make some headway, while guns were purchased at a frenetic pace by those who were afraid they may succeed.

Castner speaks with Lt. Col. David Grossman, a retired soldier and academic who sees several solutions to the growing problem of violence in our schools.

“The Department of Education says that in 1998–99, 47 students were killed in school attacks. In 2007 it was 63. Not only is a violent attack the leading cause of death by children in schools, it is more likely than all other factors combined. If there were this many children killed by fires, we’d be moving heaven and earth to stop it. Do you know how many children have been killed in schools by fire in the last 50 years? Zero.”

Fires have been reduced in schools because of a layered defense: sprinkler systems, fire-resistant building materials, evacuation drills, and, ultimately, firefighters on trucks. Do we need armored glass and bullet-proof doors as standard furnishings in school, part of the basic building code? Are fire drills applicable to the new threat? Yes, Grossman said, and more.

Grossman is also an advocate for “sheepdogs” in schools. 

Grossman has a name for the kind of person who sees the gun as protector in the opening thought experiment: sheepdog. He divides the world into three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident …  Then there are the wolves … and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial … Then there are sheepdogs, and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

David Frum, a contributing editor for Newsweek and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush took Brian’s article to task in a followup article.

(Castner) introduces to a concept from the concealed-carry world that divides Americans into three classes: “wolves” (criminals and other predators); “sheep” (those who don’t keep guns in the home); and heroic “sheepdogs”: those who, by carrying guns, protect all the rest of us. Well, thanks. But you know, there are a lot of happy little Pomeranians out there who may believe themselves sheepdogs, but who would prove worse than useless in any serious trouble. What procedures should we put in place to train and identify these noble protectors of us weak sheep? Answer: zero. “Sheepdogs by definition choose themselves.”

Ah. But the trouble is that for every valiant grandmother who protects home and hearth with her trusty shotgun, there is at least one trigger-happy George Zimmerman cruising the streets looking for a fight. For every properly trained veteran diligently securing his weapon, there seem to be dozens of people who are leaving loaded firearms out for children to find and fire.

I link to both articles because I found this exchange to be remarkably different from other discussions around guns in America, which seem to be emotional, partisan, and silly. Draped in constitutional fervor from the right and in righteous indignation from the left. We need to debate issues of import in a sensible way if we’re to find actual solutions to problems as large as this one.

However, as acceptance for marriage equality and gay rights grows, gun control is quickly becoming the most powerful wedge issue in American politics. A clever means to divide people into two belligerent camps whilst the plutocracy quietly goes about their business of looting the public trust. As an added bonus, using guns as a wedge issue  allows politicians and power brokers to use all sorts of racial codewords and create subsets of people organized by class and religion. If Lee Atwater were alive today, he’d ditch the southern strategy for the gun issue in  heartbeat. Let’s hope a real national discussion emerges on guns, violence, and media before the divide gets too wide.

2. Speaking of plutocrats looting the public trust, Matt Taibbi is begging you to read this article and get fucking pissed.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”) worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it “dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets.”

That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world’s largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world’s largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

I know that financial instruments and interest rates are confusing, but Taibbi breaks this down in such a way that even my readers in Sloan will get it. Seriously, did i mention this is a big deal? Yup, it’s even bigger than HSBC laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels and getting off with a stern scolding. I am still shocked that hardly anyone gives a shit about any of this.

3. I love the retro-future, looking back on how people of the past imagined we would live. As usual, people are incapable of seeing innovation that will come and only use their current context and tools to imagine future technology, like how people in the 1950’s imagined the “newspaper of tomorrow

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Rumors are that the editors of The Buffalo News are currently enamored with this idea. Coupons! From the Radio!

4. If you watched Mad Men on Sunday, one of the story lines was what happened in New York City in the days following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The history of how the Mayor of NYC handled those troubling times is astonishing and this is quite a read.

5. Raiteros and the seedy underbelly of the American economy.

Ty Inc. became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.

But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago’s street corners and shuttle them to Ty’s warehouse on behalf of one of the nation’s largest temp agencies.

The system provides just-in-time labor at the lowest possible cost to large companies — but also effectively pushes workers’ pay far below the minimum wage.

Temp agencies use similar van networks in other labor markets. But in Chicago’s Little Village, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest, the raiteros have melded with temp agencies and their corporate clients in a way that might be unparalleled anywhere in America — and could violate Illinois’ wage laws.

The raiteros don’t just transport workers. They also recruit them, decide who works and who doesn’t, and distribute paychecks.

What kind of country do we live in?

6. How’s the “economic recovery” working out for you? If you’re reading this, it probably stinks.

During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93% dropped by 4%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly released Census Bureau data.

SDT-2013-04-wealth-recovery-0-1

From the end of the recession in 2009 through 2011 (the last year for which Census Bureau wealth data are available), the 8 million households in the U.S. with a net worth above $836,033 saw their aggregate wealth rise by an estimated $5.6 trillion, while the 111 million households with a net worth at or below that level saw their aggregate wealth decline by an estimated $0.6 trillion.

Because of these differences, wealth inequality increased during the first two years of the recovery. The upper 7% of households saw their aggregate share of the nation’s overall household wealth pie rise to 63% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009. On an individual household basis, the mean wealth of households in this more affluent group was almost 24 times that of those in the less affluent group in 2011. At the start of the recovery in 2009, that ratio had been less than 18-to-1.

So, we have that going for us, which is nice.

Fact Of The Day: New York state law requires that a seller inform potential buyers if a house is haunted.

Quote Of The Day: “Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be-or to be indistinguishable from- self-righteous sixteen-year olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” – Neal Stephenson

Video Of The Day: “The Machine” – Bert Kresicher with one of the greatest stories ever told.

Song Of The Day: “Heavy Soul” – The Black Keys

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/25/13

25 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. Yesterday in The Buffalo News, Jane Kwiatkowski offered some guidance on how to “handle” panhandlers as you go about your business in downtown Buffalo.

All it takes is one bad panhandler to ruin your day.

Maybe he got too close when he asked for your spare change, or pestered you after you said no.

On any given day downtown, panhandlers walk the Theater District, Elmwood Avenue, West Chippewa Street or Main Street.

Getting a handle on panhandling is a rite of spring for city merchants, visitors and police, who view it as a quality-of-life issue. Many municipalities including Buffalo have enacted ordinances that prohibit aggressive panhandling, although enforcing the law is discretionary, police said.

The article makes a lot of assumptions and paints with a pretty broad brush in the most generic way possible. In fact, I found it to be pretty offensive. These types of articles paint a picture of urban life in the city that appeals to the sheltered, fearful, and prejudiced.

“There are some gentlemen who are very respectful and honest with you, and yeah I’ll throw them some change in my pocket.

“But most of them I don’t, because I know they’re going right to the store to buy beer. Sometimes I’ll actually take the guy to the store and buy him something to eat instead of giving him money, but some guys just walk up to you and they’re rude, saying they need a beer. I’m recovering myself, I’m not going to feed anybody else’s habit.”

I’m not so naive to think that there aren’t a few people walking the street who are trying to “get one over on me” for the benefit of the few cents I might be able to spare. I also have empathy and think this isn’t a problem to be “handled” as if it were some personal inconvenience to me. Give the person a dollar if you are so inclined or perhaps give a little thought to why people find themselves on the street in the first place. Perhaps contemplate how your consumption patterns, life choices, voting choices, and overall attitude fits into the puzzle of broad-based poverty and homelessness. Most of all, remember that people on the streets are, first and foremost, human beings and deserve to be treated as such. They aren’t “problems” to be “handled”. Here’s an interview with a homeless man in Chicago, whose story is familiar to anyone with any sense of empathy.

2. Here’s an awesome Q&A with Buffalo-area graphic designer Julian Montague that was recently featured on Dwell.com. The best part? The lack of incredulity by the author about why Julian chooses ot live in Buffalo, which is standard fare in stories like this one. “You’re talented and live in Buffalo?! My heavens, Why?!” Probably because it was written by a person with Buffalo roots, but refreshing nonetheless.

3. Remember Jimmy “The Rent Is Too Damn High” McMillan? You know, the be-gloved karate expert who ran for Governor and seemed like a serious candidate when put on the stage next to horse porn enthusiast Carl Paladino? 

Carl+Paladino+Jimmy+McMillan

Well, he’s back and running for Mayor of New York City. And, yes. The rent is evidently still too damn high.

4. Dottie Gallagher-Cohen was hired to replace Andrew Rudnick as the head of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. I was going to write some thoughtful analysis of the hire, but I decided to leave that low-hanging fruit for Geoff Kelly to cover in the print edition. Instead, I photoshopped Dottie’s head on to Andrew’s bow-tied torso.

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Because that’s what I do.

5. Today, in America, nearly 500,000 children as young as six years old harvest 25 percent of our crops.

Child migrant labor has been documented in the 48 contiguous states. Seasonal work originates in the southernmost states in late winter where it is warm and migrates north as the weather changes. Every few weeks as families move, children leave school and friends behind. If you’ve had onions (Texas), cucumbers (Ohio or Michigan), peppers (Tennessee), grapes (California), mushrooms (Pennsylvania), beets (Minnesota), or cherries (Washington), you’ve probably eaten food harvested by children.

This isn’t a slavery issue, or an immigration issue per se. What’s remarkable is that most of the migrant child farmworkers are American citizens trying to help their families. This is a poverty issue and it gets to the heart of what we, as consumers, see as the “right price” to pay for food.

No minimum wage, long hours, and brutal working conditions. But, hey, we need cheap cucumbers, right?

6. Chart of the day which might cause you to think about the money we spend on the “war on drugs“. Perhaps the real enemy in the war isn’t the illegal drugs.

drug_overdose

We’ll see if the substantial shift in national drug policy just announced by the Obama Administration will mean a real change.

“Drug policy should be rooted in neuroscience, not political science,” said Gil Kerikowske, director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy.

“Too many people are cycling through the (criminal justice) system,” Kerikowske said. “We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

Treating our national drug problem as a public health crisis that can be solved with prevention, treatment, and science? It’s about time.

Fact Of The Day: Scientists have created a computer program that can detect good “that’s what she said” sentences.

Quote Of The Day: “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights.” – J. Paul Getty

Video Of The Day: Charlie Brooker, the best critic of American media. Bar none. He also turns his critical eye toward social media dummies.

Song Of The Day: “19-2000 (Soulchild Remix)” – Gorillaz

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/17/13

17 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. 4/20 is not just a big day for people who smoke weed, it’s also a big day for people who like beer. More specifically, for people who like Community Beer Works beer. Why? Because it’s the one year anniversary of the opening of Buffalo’s first nanobrewery! (of which I am a part-owner). To celebrate a very successful first year in business, we’re hosting an anniversary party on 4/20 starting at 6PM at both Cole’s and Mister Goodbar on Elmwood Avenue. Along with the regular beers that we have on tap at these two fine establishments, we’ll be bringing some special one-off anniversary beers for you to imbibe.

  • A Belgian tripel
  • A double IPA with amarillo, cascade and zeus hops
  • A porter made with hops from McCollum Orchards in Lockport
  • A barrel-aged Imperial Stout that has been resting comfortably in rye whiskey barrels we procured from the fine folks at Finger Lakes Distilling

As loyal readers of The Morning Grumpy, I’d like to extend to you an invitation to the pants party, err, the anniversary party. See you there! If you can’t make it to the party, you can find us at many fine drinking establishments around town or you can stop down to the brewery to pick up a growler on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

2. An interview with a retired police officer from WGRZ’s “2 Sides” program from a few months back has picked up some national steam and has turned into quite a viral hit. Captain Peter Christ (Vice-Chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) from Tonawanda makes a very clear, concise, and simple case for legalizing drugs.

He destroys every argument for continuing our policy of prohibition and instead wants to treat drug addiction as the public health crisis that it is. We’ve spent over $1 Trillion on the “War On Drugs” and President Obama is spending more in actual dollars and percentages on interdiction and enforcement than any President who has come before him. In 2010, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses. It’s time to rethink the policy.

3. The pervasive influence of social media is now even changing how law enforcement investigates crimes. The investigation of Monday’s bombings in Boston will rely to an extraordinary extent on crowdsourced surveillance, provided by Marathon spectators’ cellphone photos, Vine videos, and Instagram feeds. However, combing through the massive amount of digital data is a huge challenge for investigators.

4. The connection between the grotesque rise in baseball salaries and our ailing financial system.

5. Did you know there is a growing number of men who are giving up on masturbation? They claim it makes them healthier, happier, and better men. What this means for the porn industry is still…insert your own pun, I’m tired.

6. The hell of the barely regulated and often unsafe American day care industry.

7. Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal on the domestic ramifications of foreign drone strikes: “…we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with.”

8. The Great Debt Delusion: How Math Keeps Proving Austerity Wrong

Fact Of The Day: 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.

Quote Of The Day: “Worry is a misuse of the imagination” – Dan Zadra

Video Of The Day: The first commercial cellular phone in the US is put to the test in front of the world’s media.

Song Of The Day: “North American Scum” – LCD Soundsystem

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/15/13

15 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. But first, the Venn diagram of irrational nonsense.

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1. Here’s the latest Trending Buffalo podcast featuring Brad Riter and me discussing new media and whether or not it’s possible to make money running a local website. I have more to say about this topic (and the original article in Buffalo Spree which inspired the conversation), but I’ll defer writing about it until Alan Bedenko has a shot to weigh in as he wasn’t able to join us for the podcast.

2. Want to be happier? Stop reading the news.

News has no explanatory power. News items are bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world. Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below journalists’ radar but have a transforming effect. The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more information leads to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the pyramid. That’s not the case.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

I know this seems counter-intuitive from a blogger who curates “news” for his readers. However, if you’ve been reading the Grumpy, you’d know that I try to not link to the daily bump and grind of local or even national news, but instead focus on underlying trends or articles that inform movements and larger shifts in ideology. I haven’t been explicitly doing it for the reasons stated in the aforementioned article, but I’ve stopped reading the daily news. It’s noise that makes me decidedly less intelligent and less-informed. I try to consume longer-form work and investigative articles that challenge my assumptions and spend the time to fill out an idea with persuasive evidence. When was the last time you read a daily news story (most likely partially ghost-written by a press release and/or featuring pre-packaged comments from a press conference) and thought, “I’m glad I read that.”? Not too often, I’ll bet.

3. Detroit’s story is also Buffalo’s story. I’m constantly watching developments in Detroit  to see how they are working to solve the problems of sprawl, poverty, large-scale economic disinvestment, crime, and sustainability while comparing them to our own efforts in Buffalo. Detroit is ahead in some ways and behind in others, but America is rooting for Detroit’s resurgence and there is a billionaire who is underwriting some broad-based private sector development.

4. A great local hobby for Buffalonians is to imagine and opine about what should happen to the Central Terminal. Some think it should be re-purposed as an events center, an office, apartments, put back into service as a train station, or all of the above. Here’s ten more suggestions for everyone to chew on. Whatever you think should be done with the terminal, you might want to kick in a few bucks and help put a new roof on the place.

5. The annual bee die-offs that have come to be known as “colony-collapse disorder” appear to be accelerating. Mother Jones reports on the issue, and the emerging scientific consensus regarding the effect of pesticides on bee colonies as well as on how the media is covering it.

6. How conservatives invented “voter fraud” to attack civil rights.

Fact Of The Day: Bacon accelerates hangover recovery.

Quote Of The Day: “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Video Of The Day: Happy Monday from Operation Smile. Warning: It might get a bit dusty in whatever room you’re sitting in while watching this video.

Song Of The Day: “Falling For You” – Weezer

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/8/13

8 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. But first, the Venn diagram of irrational nonsense.

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1. The economic story of the year: the stock market vs. the labor market.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 and the Dow closed at nominal all-time highs. Three days later, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added a shockingly low 88,000 jobs in March. How bad is 88K? Well, put it this way, we’re theoretically in the midst of an accelerating recovery, and 88K new jobs per month won’t get us back to full employment for another 20 years, or more.

I suspect that this will be one of the defining national stories of 2013, and beyond: The big, sustained, and accelerating gap between the working opportunities of most Americans and the profits produced at the top.

The rich get richer…

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Corporate profits are spiraling wildly upward amidst “The Great Speedup“. An aging workforce, combined with sharp cuts in labor costs, combined with lower federal spending, massive cuts in state and municipal spending, along with continued tax cuts for the wealthy (and the aforementioned corporations) adds up to a shitty economy. But, it’s Obama’s fault, right?

2. An incredible speech about the necessity of high-speed universal Internet access from Susan Crawford who I wrote about in the Grumpy this past February.

100 years ago, electricity was a luxury. When FDR entered office, 90% of farmers didn’t have it. FDR took this on – took on special interests, drove towards affordable, world-class electricity for everyone. It wasn’t easy, it took leadership.

Today, in America, we treat high-speed Internet access like a luxury. We’ve deregulated it entirely. And we’re reaping what we have sown.

A third of Americans don’t subscribe – a hundred million of us – and we’re stuck there. If you’re poor, less-well-educated, or of color, it’s much more likely that you don’t have a wired connection at home. 19 million can’t get it at any cost.  So we’ve got an enormous digital divide inside our country.

We believed ten years ago that the magic of the market would bring us universal cheap connectivity. Instead, a few giant companies divided markets and consolidated – here’s the bottom line: Cable has won. When it comes to wired internet access, cable has a lock – .2% of new high-speed Internet access subscriptions in the last three quarters of 2012 went to the local cable monopoly.  Comcast by far the largest, 20M; TWC 11M. Verizon and AT&T, meanwhile, have backed off from wires, and are concentrating wholly on the separate wireless marketplace.

We are stagnating – no federal plan for the future. We have the worst of both worlds: both no competition and no oversight.

And Comcast and TWC and VZ and AT&T have the best of all monopoly profits, which is a quiet life.

We need to recapture the regulatory ideal. That ideal is that regulation of infrastructure, government intervention, makes free markets and free speech possible. We used to know this – we understood this with highways, electricity, and communications – Eisenhower and freeways. Our telephone network was the envy of the world when it was built.

This regulatory ideal unleashes human ingenuity; it’s pro competition, pro growth, pro innovation.

Or, we can continue to let corporate profiteers extract maximum profit with minimum benefit for the consumer.

3. A Spectacular, Colorful Chart of Who Works (and Who Doesn’t Work) in America Today. The share of American adults who are either working or actively looking for work (the labor force participation rate) — fell to its lowest point since 1979, according to Friday’s jobs report. So, if 37 percent of American adults aren’t in the labor force, what are they doing?

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4. Any doubt that Henry Kissinger was a horrible man will now be removed due to Wikileaks releasing over 200,000 of his diplomatic cables.

The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” — Henry A. Kissinger, US Secretary of State, March 10, 1975

Julian Assange today announced the launch of the Public Library of US Diplomacy, or PLUSD, the publication of more than 1.7 million US diplomatic and intelligence documents from the 1970s. PLUSD includes diplomatic cables, intel reports, congressional correspondence, and other formerly restricted material, now all online in searchable text form.

The Kissinger Cables comprise more than 1.7 million US diplomatic records for the period 1973 to 1976, including 205,901 records relating to former US Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. Dating from January 1, 1973 to December 31, 1976 they cover a variety of diplomatic traffic including cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence. They include more than 1.3 million full diplomatic cables and 320,000 originally classified records. These include more than 227,000 cables classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and 61,000 cables classified as “SECRET”. Perhaps more importantly, there are more than 12,000 documents with the sensitive handling restriction “NODIS” or ‘no distribution’, and more than 9,000 labelled “Eyes Only”.

The documents also contain hourly diplomatic reporting on the 1973 war between Israel, Egypt and Syria (the “Yom Kippur war”). While several of these documents have been used by US academic researchers in the past, the Kissinger Cables provides unparalleled access to journalists and the general public.

Improving access and making these documents searchable is an incredible step forward for historians, journalists, and citizens.

5. NASA won’t be going back to the moon anytime soon, and that’s pretty sad.

6. The CIA’s secret deal that began “The Drone War”.

7. The “nuclear” option for total Facebook app privacy.

Fact Of The Day: There are 62 pieces of Lego for every person on Earth. Most of them happen to be in my basement, strategically placed to inflict maximum foot pain.

Quote Of The Day: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”  – James A. Garfield

Video Of The Day: An awesome moment.

Song Of The Day: “Free Radicals” – The Flaming Lips

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/4/13

4 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Buffalo_Metro_Line

1. The dangers of “presentism“.

“If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism,” media theorist Douglas Rushkoff writes in his new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, “the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.” For Rushkoff, we’ve ceased being a “future-focused culture” and instead morphed into one that can’t look past “the now.” The result, he says, is “present shock” — our panicky retort to an always-on, real-time society.

In the book, Rushkoff zeroes in on five principal ways present shock allegedly rears its head: narrative collapse, how storytellers are reacting to no longer having “the time required to tell a linear story”; digiphrenia, the uneasy ways “our media and technologies encourage us to be in more than one place at the same time”; overwinding, the “effort to make the passing moment responsible for the sorts of effects that actually take real time to occur”; fractalnoia, the “attempt to draw connections from one thing to another in the frozen moment, even when such connections are forced or imaginary”; and apocalypto, “the way a seemingly infinite present makes us long for endings, by almost any means necessary.”

As a companion piece, Jay Rosen of NYU suggests you understand the concept of “stock and flow” to get better perspective on Rushkoff’s theory. Few media outlets, aside from The New York Times, have found the right balance.

2. A total of 75 restrictive voting laws have been introduced in 30 states so far this year. If Republicans can’t win elections with their ever-shrinking base, they’ll change the rules. That’s 75 bills…and it’s only April. If they can maintain the pace of this deluge, small incremental changes will take hold that will add up to a massive shift over time. The GOP is deathly afraid of the emerging Obama coalition.

3. As a means to maintain some mild illusion of bipartisan fingerpointing here at the Grumpy, here’s a list of Democrats who are working just as hard as their Republicans counterparts to undermine Wall Street Reform. It’s not all Elizabeth Warrens, Sherrod Browns in our caucus.

4. If you’ve ever done any investigative work or research of public records, PDFs are the enemy of open and accessible information. They are unsearchable and ponderous documents to manage, which is, of course, by design. Which is why the tabula project to extract tables from PDFs is a really heroic work of coding in pursuit of journalism.

5. Americans believe in A LOT of conspiracy theories.

6. With North Korea throwing a geopolitical tantrum, the issue of Reagan-era ground-based missile defense has re-emerged in our national political circus. Dana Liebelson had a good report last week on Congress intervening to rescue a missile-defense program the Pentagon doesn’t want.

7. Three reasons 30-somethings are accumulating less wealth than their parents.

8. On the 40th anniversary of the first cellular phone, Wired takes a look back at the twelve cellphones that changed our world forever.

9. The growing sentiment on Capitol Hill for ending “Too Big To Fail”

Fact Of The Day: If the the entire world population of 6.9 billion lived in a single city as dense as Paris, it would only take up as much space as Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Quote Of The Day: “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.” – Howard Zinn

Video Of The Day: “How It’s Made – Marbles” – I could watch How It’s Made around the clock.

Song Of The Day: “Rocks Off” – The Rolling Stones

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The Morning Grumpy – 4/2/13

2 Apr

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Bauerle_Rock_Star

Tom Bauerle, presented without comment.

1. An incredible piece in the NY Times about a harmful industrial chemical and the inability of OSHA to stop its use.

For about five years, Ms. Farley, 45, stood alongside about a dozen other workers, spray gun in hand, gluing together foam cushions for chairs and couches sold under brand names like Broyhill, Ralph Lauren and Thomasville. Fumes from the glue formed a yellowish fog inside the plant, and Ms. Farley’s doctors say that breathing them in eventually ate away at her nerve endings, resulting in what she and her co-workers call “dead foot.”

A chemical she handled — known as n-propyl bromide, or nPB — is also used by tens of thousands of workers in auto body shops, dry cleaners and high-tech electronics manufacturing plants across the nation. Medical researchers, government officials and even chemical companies that once manufactured nPB have warned for over a decade that it causes neurological damage and infertility when inhaled at low levels over long periods, but its use has grown 15-fold in the past six years.

Such hazards demonstrate the difficulty, despite decades of effort, of ensuring that Americans can breathe clean air on the job. Even as worker after worker fell ill, records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that managers at Royale Comfort Seating, where Ms. Farley was employed, repeatedly exposed gluers to nPB levels that exceeded levels federal officials considered safe, failed to provide respirators and turned off fans meant to vent fumes.

But the story of the rise of nPB and the decline of Ms. Farley’s health is much more than the tale of one company, or another chapter in the national debate over the need for more, or fewer, government regulations. Instead, it is a parable about the law of unintended consequences.

Investigative journalism at its finest.

2. The H-1B visa program is largely used by Indian outsourcing companies which are running high-tech sweatshops to replace American jobs.

3. Modafanil, not just for narcoleptics anymore. Lifehackers around the world are using the drug to up their concentration levels and manipulate sleep patterns.

Tasks that were usually soul-crushing now had his undivided attention. He spent hours fine-tuning ad campaigns for his new business, and his output wasn’t just faster and longer—it was better. “I didn’t take as many breaks; I didn’t get as frustrated; the stuff came out with fewer errors,” he says. “I never felt, Oh, let’s just get it done. I polished things.” As long as he kept taking the pill, his focus never wavered. “Time took on an entirely different sort of quality.” He was even happier. “There were some very potent anti-anxiety effects. Which was strange. I didn’t think I was an anxious person, but I guess I was.”

I took Modafanil for a few weeks about two years ago. It’s not something I wanted to make a habit out of, but it certainly was a potent mental supercharger.

4. Health self-tracking with Fitbits and iPhone apps is all the rage nowadays, but what lessons can we learn from diabetics who have been monitoring their health for years?

If self-tracking is so great, why do diabetics hate it so much?

The fact that diabetics have been doing this for years, and that they largely loathe the experience, not only serves as a caution to the vogue of self-tracking. It also offers an opportunity, serving as an object lesson in what works, and what doesn’t work, when people track their health.

Interesting lessons about the self-quantification movement.

5. Three days after an Exxon pipeline in Central Arkansas burst and soaked the town of Mayflower in thousands of barrels of crude oil, the cleanup is ongoing. At last count, 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been dumped on the small town.  Which is why the Keystone XL pipeline is as dangerous as it is unnecessary.  Here’s a visualization and analysis of all the pipeline safety and environmental incidents from 1986 to the present. It’s exceptionally enlightening data.

Fact Of The Day: Gmail first launched on April 1st, 2004. It was widely assumed the service was an April Fools Day joke.

Quote Of The Day: “If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” Shantideva

Video Of The Day: Two nonagenarians face off in a 100 meter dash. Awesomeness ensues.

Song Of The Day: Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello – “The Ghost of Tom Joad”

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The Morning Grumpy – 3/29/13

29 Mar

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 biotics

1. So, New York State passed a budget last night, but amongst several draconian cuts was a reduction of $90MM in funding for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. This funding sustains many local organizations who provide services and care to the weakest among us.

Officials argue it leaves the state’s most vulnerable population, even more vulnerable. That money pays for their health care services; transportation to and from work, school, or day-hab; and education and job-training programs.

As Rhonda Frederick, Chief Operating Officer of People Inc. and President of the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of WNY, points out, “The things that we so much take for granted, people with developmental disabilities need those supports, need our help to do that.”

“This will be devastating.”

Agencies that help the developmentally disabled employ 15,000 people in Western New York. Because of these cuts, as many as 900 of those people could lose their jobs.

They are not the only ones who will feel a negative economic impact. If the developmentally disabled do not have programs to attend, family members may have to give up their full-time jobs to stay home, and care for them.

“It trickles down,” says Frederick.

The lawmakers who tried to pass the amendment and restore the funding assailed the budget for taking from the needy, while giving to others. Some attacked the $420 million in tax credits set aside in the budget to subsidize movie and TV productions, and the $54 million New York State has committed for the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“Whoever negotiated these cuts has never struggled with the pain of watching a child with disabilities,” said Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, from Monroe County.

It was a shameful measure and regardless as to the political football the issue became in the last several weeks, these cuts have significant consequences for caregivers and those who depend on the services they provide. Assemblyman Ray Walter (R,C,I-Amherst) was a leader in the fight to restore the funding, even though his efforts fell short.

“New York State can only be truly strong if we care for those who need our help the most, and these non-profits provide an absolutely vital service in a cost-effective manner,” said Walter. “The parallel system of services provided by the state to only 20 percent of the population of people with disabilities consumes over 50 percent of the resources, yet the far more efficient and effective voluntary providers are shouldering the entire burden of this cut.  This cannot stand. I have been speaking with the parents, families and individuals with disabilities, as well as many of the 12,500 employees of the agencies providing these supports and services in Western New York. The consensus is that this 6 percent cut is unmanageable and will be devastating to our community. My colleagues in both houses and Gov. Cuomo must realize the benefit community-based providers bring to these families and to the state. I will do everything in my power to restore this funding as part of the budget process.”

Long Island Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (whose son is developmentally disabled and depends on these services) got a standing ovation for this floor speech on this issue. 

Shameful, absolutely shameful. But, hey, I hope NY residents enjoy their bribes, errrr, $350 “rebate” checks, that’ll cost $1.2BN over the next three years

2. In other horrific news about our failing social safety net, the Erie County Department of Social Services reported yesterday that 2,198 individuals were placed in emergency homeless shelters in 2012, an increase of 14% from 2011. Families with children accounted for approximately one-third of those placements, and are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. On an average night, 45 families and 76 homeless single adults are placed in shelter by ECDSS. As of March 26, 2013, ECDSS has made 518 placements in emergency shelters, with 148 of those being families with children.

3. American corporations pay historically low tax rates while lobbying to make them even lower.

The Washington Post analyzed 30 large companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average — companies like McDonalds, Microsoft, and Exxon Mobil — and found that their tax rates have fallen even as profits have risen, thanks in large part to tax laws that provide incentives to store overseas profits in offshore tax havens.

American tax law allows companies to shield foreign profits from taxation until they are brought back to the United States, and corporations have happily obliged. The largest 83 corporations moved $166 billion overseas in 2012 alone, bringing their total to $1.46 trillion, and most of it, according to a Congressional Research Service study, was kept in tax havens like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Ireland. As a result, they have seen huge reductions in tax rates: McDonald’s, for example, saw its tax rate plunge from 37 percent in 1973 to 14 percent in 2012.

Corporate profits hit a 60-year high in 2011, right as the effective corporate tax rate hit a 40-year low.

If you draw a connection between item #2 and item #3 in this morning’s grumpy, you win a prize!

4. The reason a record number of Americans are on food assistance is that a record number are in poverty. Republican solution? Tax cuts for the wealthy!

5. Smartphone apps have created a new digital underclass of low-paid and highly monitored workers. We’re all to blame.

6. The plot to assassinate Justin Bieber. Yup, this was a thing.

7. Experts said the “Harlem Shake” phenomenon was emergent behavior from the hive mind of the internet—accidental, ad hoc, uncoordinated: a “meme” that “went viral.” But this is untrue. Stop being such a dope.

8. Public defender offices around the country are underfunded and understaffed, bolstering the two tiered legal system that exists in America.

In 2007, the last time the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed the nation’s indigent defense services, there were 957 public defender offices employing 15,000 full-time staff. These offices handled about 80 percent of the country’s criminal cases, on a combined budget of $2.3 billion. In that same year, 2,330 state prosecutor offices employed 78,000 full-time staff. Their budgets were falling, but with a total of $5.8 billion in the kitty, their means far outstripped that of their defender colleagues.

Faced with a larger and better-funded prosecution regime, defenders can’t keep up. … It should come as no surprise, then, that you’re more likely to wind up in jail if represented by a taxpayer-financed lawyer than by one you hire yourself.

Dr. Corasanti could afford Joel Daniels, 99% of us cannot.

9. The NRA is winning and there’s not much gun control advocates can do about it.

10. The average person in the U.S is 37.2 years old. The average piece of infrastructure is 22.1 years old.

Fact Of The Day: Until 1978, the Mormon church taught that blacks were once an evil race of Jews who were colored by God for their wickedness.

Quote Of The Day: “Students who acquire large debts while putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society.  When you trap people in a system of debt . they can’t afford the time to think.  Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy” – Noam Chomsky

Video Of The Day: A new ad from Time Warner Cable, providing their trademarked “optimum cockbag service”.

Song Of The Day: My hope with the song of the day in the grumpy is that you hear the song and then spend some time going down the YouTube rabbit hole discovering a new artist or revisiting some old favorites. For me, music is a way to mark time and also serves as a means to vividly draw me back to special moments in my life. Van Morrison has always provided a musical and emotional home for me, it was music my Mom played often when I was young and always reminds me of really wonderful times in my life. I hope it does for you as well.

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The Morning Grumpy – 3/27/12

27 Mar

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

internet_grandma

1. It’s tax season and most of you, like Tim Geithner, have paid to use TurboTax to file your return. But, wouldn’t it be cool if you didn’t have to file a return?

Imagine filing your income taxes in five minutes — and for free. You’d open up a pre-filled return, see what the government thinks you owe, make any needed changes and be done. The miserable annual IRS shuffle, gone.

It’s already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.

The idea, known as “return-free filing,” would be a voluntary alternative to hiring a tax preparer or using commercial tax software. The concept has been around for decades and has been endorsed by both President Ronald Reagan and a campaigning President Obama.

It’s being done in many places around the world and Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) has spent a lot of money to make sure it’ll never happen in America.

Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

I’m sure Tom Bauerle fans and other right-wing lunatics would oppose the idea of government-prepared returns anyhow and claim the IRS is going to mark you with the number of the socialist beast to better identify you in a FEMA camp, but Intuit is hedging it’s bets and paying off Congress to keep things difficult for taxpayers.

2. America’s health-care prices are ludicrous: “We pay much, much more than other countries do for the exact same things.”

3. The ascendance of liberalism is due to generational change and the economy.

4. Alternative weekly newspapers are dead, long live alt-weeklies!

5. It’s become clear that Americans, broadly speaking, have little idea as to the scale of our “drone war”. Well, problem solved. The Guardian has a great interactive visual showing every drone attack in Pakistan.

6. I think I linked to this last month, but a recent Buzzfeed article got me thinking about this magnificent piece of journalism again. The extraordinary science of addictive junk food.

7. Generation Naïve: Why Young People Can’t Help Falling for Strangers Online

8. The day that TV news died was the day Phil Donahue was fired by MSNBC for opposing the war in Iraq.

Fact Of The Day: Mother Teresa believed suffering brought people closer to Jesus and therefore withheld pain killers from her patients.

Quote Of The Day: “Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.” -Abraham Lincoln

Video Of The Day: Russians make the best music videos. Ever. “Bad Motherfucker, Insane Office Escape 2” – Crazy violence.

Song Of The Day: “Busman’s Holiday” – Allah-Las

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