Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The National Defense Authorization Act

Yesterday, the Senate voted (61 to 37) to keep a controversial provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow the military to detain terrorism suspects (even U.S. citizens) and hold them indefinitely without trial.

As written, without ever being formally charged, an alleged terrorism suspect may only get one hearing from the military before being locked up for life. What happened to due-process?

Congress is essentially authorizing the indefinite military imprisonment of U.S. citizens, without charging them, much like we did during WWII. Do we ever learn from our mistakes?

The President must exercise his power to veto this act. Call or email him and let him know what you think about this provision of the NDAA.

TEDxSF - Louie Schwartzberg - Gratitude

Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer whose notable career spans more than three decades providing breathtaking imagery for feature films, television shows, documentaries and commercials.

This piece includes his short film on Gratitude and Happiness. Brother David Steindl's spoken words, Gary Malkin's musical compositions and Louie's cinematography make this a stunningly beautiful piece, reminding us of the precious gift of life, and the beauty all around us.

As a visual artist, Louie has created some of the most iconic and memorable film moments of our time. He is an innovator in the world of time-lapse, nature, aerial and "slice-of-life" photography - the only cinematographer in the world who has literally been shooting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week continuously for more than 30 years.

Louie was recognized as one of the top 70 Cinematographers for the On Film Kodak Salute Series. He is a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Louie is credited by many with pioneering the contemporary stock footage industry by founding Energy Film Library, a global company with a network of 12 foreign offices, which was acquired by Getty Images in 1997. Motion picture clients of his cinematic artistry include Sex in the City, The Bourne Ultimatum, Die Hard 4, Syriana, Crash, Men in Black and classics such as American Beauty, Koyaanisqatsi and E.T. among others.

Louie went on to found BlackLight Films, a creative production company specializing in producing original theatrical feature, large format films, HD and TV programming.

In 2004, BlackLight Films completed production of the theatrical feature film, America's Heart &Soul, distributed theatrically by Walt Disney Pictures. In 2006, BlackLight Films completed a series of HD shorts, Louie Films, for the launch of Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray DVD releases. In 2007, the company produced a 1-hour special, Chasing the Light, which aired nationally on PBS.

Past projects include the 35mm film Seasons of the Vine for Disney's California Adventure Theme Park and a 26-half hour series, America!, for The Hallmark Channel.

Louie has won two Clio Awards for Best Environmental Broadcast Spot, an Emmy nomination for Best Cinematography for the Discovery Channel Special, Oceans of Air, and the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture Award for Walt Disney Pictures' feature film release America's Heart & Soul.

Louie completed production on a feature length nature documentary, Wings of Life, to be theatrically released worldwide, under Walt Disney Pictures' new production banner, Disneynature. The film was released in France (March 2011) under the title Pollen and won the Roscar Award for Best Cinematography at the 2011 Wild Talk Africa Film Festival.

Louie spoke at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach, CA and has been a regular presenter at the annual Bioneers Conference in San Francisco. Currently, Louie is in production with National Geographic to produce Hidden Worlds, a 3D Imax film.

Monday, November 28, 2011

From The New York Times

November 27, 2011, 10:28 am

The Obama Spending Non-Surge

Blogging is a lot like teaching the same class year after year; you’re always encountering the same arguments you’ve refuted in the past, and you want to demand why they weren’t listening the last time.

Anyway, what I’m seeing in comments and reactions, once again, is the claim that Obama has presided over a vast expansion of government — a claim backed not by describing any specific programs, but by pointing to the share of federal spending in GDP. Indeed, federal spending rose from 19.6% of GDP in 2007 to 23.8% in 2010 (it was briefly 25 in 2009, but that was a number distorted by the financial bailouts). So there has been a roughly 4 points of GDP rise in the spending share. What’s that about?

Well, part of the answer is that the ratio is up because the denominator is down. According to CBO estimates, in fiscal 2010 the economy operated about 7 percent below potential. This means that even if what the government was doing hadn’t changed, the federal spending share of GDP would have risen by 1.4 percentage points.

Then, look inside the budget data (pdf), specifically at Table E-10. You’ll see a surge in spending on “income security”; that’s basically unemployment insurance, food stamps, and similar items. In other words, spending on safety-net programs is up because the economy is depressed, and more people are falling into the safety net.

You’ll also see a sharp rise in Medicaid; again, this is because the lousy economy has pushed more people into hardship, making them eligible for the program.

I’ve done a bit of number-crunching, and here’s my allocation of the sources of the rise in federal spending as a share of GDP:
So a depressed economy plus safety net programs that have grown as a result of a depressed economy are, overwhelmingly, the real story here.

What’s in that “other” category? Some of it is stimulus spending. Some of it is the leading wave of the baby boomers, who are starting to collect Social Security and enter Medicare. Some of it is rising health care costs.

What isn’t there, no way, nohow, is a massive expansion of government, which is a figment of the right wing’s imagination.

From Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT)

Helping torture victims become torture survivors.
Dear Dee ,
Please take a few minutes help protect our fundamental American values. Call your Senators today and ask them to do the right thing.

Tell your Senators you want them to stand up for due process and liberty for all.
Ask them to vote FOR the Udall Amendment and AGAINST the Ayotte Amendment to the NDAA 2012.
This evening, the Senate will begin voting on the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 (NDAA). They will decide whether to make permanent the indefinite detention of individuals, which may include American citizens—without charge or trial. The Senate will also vote to authorize mandatory military custody of individuals, including legal US residents. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made clear that mandatory military custody limits US ability to fight terrorism.
The Udall Amendment would strike these NDAA provisions.
The Senate will also decide whether we should roll back the protections against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and allow interrogation techniques outside the Army Field Manual, which should be the gold standard. General David Petraeus, current Director of the CIA, believes such enhanced interrogation techniques are ineffective and wrong; however, the Ayotte Amendment would codify this roll-back and allow such techniques.
Please call your senators and tell them to stand up for due process and liberty for all. Please ask your senators to vote FOR the Udall Amendment (A. No. 1107), which strikes down these disastrous detainee provisions, and AGAINST the Ayotte Amendment (A. No. 1068), which authorizes enhanced interrogation techniques.
Physicians for Human Rights documented in the 2011 report, Punishment Before Justice: Indefinite Detention in the US, medical literature provides convincing evidence that the indeterminacy of an indefinite detention creates a degree of uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncontrollability that causes severe harms in healthy individuals.

Brandi Carlile Sings Turpentine

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From The Smirking Chimp

by John W. Dean | June 29, 2011
For good reason, there has been serious hand-wringing over what to do about the ethical lapses of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The fact that Supreme Court justices are exempt from the code of ethical conduct which applies to the rest of the federal judiciary; the problem of bringing a sitting justice before the Congress to question the conduct of a constitutional co-equal; the reality that justices cannot easily defend themselves against news media charges; the defiant, in-your-face posture of Thomas—the list goes on but it need not. There is clear precedent for how to deal with the justice. Thomas could be forced off the bench.

As the associate deputy attorney general in President Richard M. Nixon's Department of Justice, I was there when Assistant Attorney General William Rehnquist outlined how to remove a Supreme Court justice who had engaged in conduct not quite as troublesome as that of Thomas. Rehnquist, of course, would later become chief justice of the United States. His memorandum providing the process for the Department of Justice to proceed against then Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas remains solid precedent and the way to deal with Clarence Thomas. But before looking at the solution, I should explain the problem.

» article continues...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Birds do it, bees do it 
Even educated fleas do it 
Let's do it, let's fall in love 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From RollingStone

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests

Much more than a movement against big banks, they're a rejection of what our society has become.

By Matt Taibbi

November 10, 2011 8:00 AM ET
taibbi ows

I have a confession to make. At first, I misunderstood Occupy Wall Street.

The first few times I went down to Zuccotti Park, I came away with mixed feelings. I loved the energy and was amazed by the obvious organic appeal of the movement, the way it was growing on its own. But my initial impression was that it would not be taken very seriously by the Citibanks and Goldman Sachs of the world. You could put 50,000 angry protesters on Wall Street, 100,000 even, and Lloyd Blankfein is probably not going to break a sweat. He knows he's not going to wake up tomorrow and see Cornel West or Richard Trumka running the Federal Reserve. He knows modern finance is a giant mechanical parasite that only an expert surgeon can remove. Yell and scream all you want, but he and his fellow financial Frankensteins are the only ones who know how to turn the machine off.

That's what I was thinking during the first few weeks of the protests. But I'm beginning to see another angle. Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It's about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one's own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it's flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The right-wing media wasted no time in cannon-blasting the movement with its usual idiotic clich├ęs, casting Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of dirty hippies who should get a job and stop chewing up Mike Bloomberg's police overtime budget with their urban sleepovers. Just like they did a half-century ago, when the debate over the Vietnam War somehow stopped being about why we were brutally murdering millions of innocent Indochinese civilians and instead became a referendum on bralessness and long hair and flower-child rhetoric, the depraved flacks of the right-wing media have breezily blown off a generation of fraud and corruption and market-perverting bailouts, making the whole debate about the protesters themselves – their hygiene, their "envy" of the rich, their "hypocrisy."

The protesters, chirped Supreme Reichskank Ann Coulter, needed three things: "showers, jobs and a point." Her colleague Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the protesters hypocrites for having iPhones. OWS, he said, is "Starbucks-sipping, Levi's-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters [denouncing] corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over." Apparently, because Goldman and Citibank are corporations, no protester can ever consume a corporate product – not jeans, not cellphones and definitely not coffee – if he also wants to complain about tax money going to pay off some billionaire banker's bets against his own crappy mortgages.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. Don't give them any ammunition! we counseled. Stay on message! Be specific! We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS, trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within-the-system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don't care what we think they're about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We're all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob's Ladder nightmare with no end; we're entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There's no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it's 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don't know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

There was a lot of snickering in media circles, even by me, when I heard the protesters talking about how Liberty Square was offering a model for a new society, with free food and health care and so on. Obviously, a bunch of kids taking donations and giving away free food is not a long-term model for a new economic system.

But now, I get it. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it's at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned "democracy," tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

We're a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. If your state tries to place tariffs on companies doing business with some notorious human-rights-violator state – like Massachusetts did, when it sought to bar state contracts to firms doing business with Myanmar – the decision will be overturned by some distant global bureaucracy like the WTO. Even if 40 million Californians vote tomorrow to allow themselves to smoke a joint, the federal government will never permit it. And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.

And here's one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government "committed" to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.

This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

It's not that the cops outside the protests are doing wrong, per se, by patrolling the parks and sidewalks. It's that they should be somewhere else. They should be heading up into those skyscrapers and going through the file cabinets to figure out who stole what, and from whom. They should be helping people get their money back. Instead, they're out on the street, helping the Blankfeins of the world avoid having to answer to the people they ripped off.

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It's about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a "beloved community" free of racial segregation. Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn't need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Amy LaVere - Never Been Sadder

Neko Case "I Wish I Was The Moon" Live RAVE HD


by Jack Reeves

It is almost two years since Iraq's national election. Still, unified government has not resulted because the country is divided by the theology of its Sunni and Shiite populations. Such since the Prophet Muhammed's death almost 1400 years ago.

Meanwhile, conflict and contention increase; US armed forces will be gone in a month.

That the United States invaded Iraq is tragic. Avowed reasons were to protect the US and enable democracy.

Even if containing an element of honesty, the action was uninformed. Democracy is not creatable overnight. In particular, 1400 years of animosity cannot be soon ended.

This reality was not respected in 2003. Instead, invasion was much motivated by economic and ideological interests.

The results--besides death and destruction--still affect us, contributing to our national debt and significantly causative of our extreme political division and dysfunction government.

Fourteen hundred years of same behavior is predictive. Honesty respects this.

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (George Santayana) is verifiable.

And, unfortunately, yesterday, today and tomorrow too often explained.

The Fight for American Jobs Continues

Mike McCarry, a 59-year-old veteran who juggles two jobs to make ends meet talks about the veterans portion of President Obama's jobs plan. Congress passed it earlier this month and the President signed into law yesterday. Unfortunately, almost every single Republican still refuse to do the right thing for teachers, cops, firefighters, and middle-class families.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From NBC News: Bob Costas Interviews Jerry Sandusky

Last night on NBC News "Rock Center," Bob Costas asked  Jerry Sandusky by telephone if he was a pedophile. Sandusky's response was, "No."

Harry Belafonte Reflects on Life as a Singer, Actor and Activist

From The News Hours: Gwen Ifill interview Harry Belafonte, a musical icon and lifelong political and social activist.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Thought or Two About Penn State

Sad but true, scientific research combined with objective evidence has determined that the vast majority of us who witness violent and abusive acts do nothing to stop them, yet, somehow, become ardent self-righteous prigs (after the fact), eager to condemn not only those who have been accused of an ‘alleged’ wrongdoing but those who we believe have failed to intervene.

In short, most of us (including our pious press) are hypocrites – reluctant to get involved until the lynch mob forms.

Both actions fail our children.

Once again, it seems, we all remain guilty until proven innocent.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The People Have Spoken

Two conservative ballot initiatives were defeated yesterday.

The Mississippi so-called  "personhood" initiative was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters. If passed, it would have declared that life begins at conception and would have surely provoked a legal challenge to abortion rights nationwide since it conflicted with the 1973 landmark Supreme Court (Roe v. Wade) decision that established a woman's legal right to abortion.

The other initiative overturned an anti-union law in Ohio, delivering a crushing defeat to Republican Gov. John Kasich and a victory for labor unions.

The people of Mississippi and Ohio are not as stupid as I thought.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Infrastructure Investment

The White House Blog

By the Numbers: 2 Percent

2 percent

The United States is falling behind on investing in the roads, bridges, airports, and transit systems that keep our economy humming. We spend just 2 percent of our GDP on infrastructure projects. Europe and China invest 5 percent and 9 percent of their respective GDPs on developing infrastructure.

Functioning infrastructure provides a critical backbone for a strong economy. Research shows that investments in creating, maintaining, or expanding transportation networks promote efficiency, productivity, and more rapid economic growth.

Today, President Obama is calling on Congress to pass a piece of the American Jobs Act that will invest $50 billion in our nation’s transportation infrastructure and $10 billion in a National Infrastructure Bank. Together, these initiatives will put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads, rails, and runways. With 1.1 million constructions workers out of work, we can’t wait to invest in our infrastructure.

A Walk in Honor of Paul (Photos)