Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ACLU plans legal action on TSA no-fly list today

Peter Finn writes in the Washington Post, on p A2, that the ACLU plans to sue the US government today in behalf of ten people on the TSA no-fly list, some of whom have been stranded overseas. The story, on p A2 of the June 30 Washington Post, is “ACLU mounts legal challenge to no-fly list”, link here.

Some people have actually been stranded with domestic flights, also.

There is no real or dependable due process for challenging the list, or for knowing in advance if one is on it mistakenly.

The ACLU has an important FAQ page on the list, which everyone who flies even domestically ought to read. Mistakes do happen. The link is here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Supreme Court incorporates 2nd Amendment rights as a fundamental right even for state and local law; Chicago law taken down

The Supreme Court has struck down a Chicago gun control ordinance this morning (June 28) and ruled that the Second Amendment applies as a fundamental individual right when applied to states and localities (essentially, that seems to mean that it comes under 14th Amendment incorporation).

Actually, later media reports indicated that the Court ordered the Appeals court to review its ruling in terms of (what amounts to) an incorporation doctrine. But that means that Chicago will not be able to prevent law-abiding civilians from owning guns in their own homes with some reasonable regulation.

The case is McDonald v. Chicago and the Supreme Court slip opinion is here.

The CNN story, by Bill Mears, is here.

The court was divided in this 5-4 ruling, and dissenter Stephen Breyer warned that many local firearms laws could be challenged in federal court, but the majority said that there can be reasonable regulation of firearms use.

Chicago is likely to pass a law similar to Washington DC’s law now, requiring registration, certification and training.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Financial reform may not protect the "average joe" bank consumer: watch the trash talk and urban legends

The AP has a useful summary of the financial reform bill that has passed both houses of Congress and seems to need only minor tweaking before one more Congressional “rite of passage” and presentation to the President. Here is the Los Angeles Times link.  Both the New York Times and Washington Post have temperate editorials today urging quick passage, and both papers point out that a lot of power will be given to regulatory agencies, perhaps too much.

There’s a lot of discussion of “too big to fail”, or “proprietary investments” by banks and manipulation of derivatives (probably a legalized “conflict of interest”. The definitive source on the technical aspects of the bill seems to be Govtrack’s entry for H.R. 4173, link (web url) here.

The real concern is how it affects average Americans. There is trash talk around that banks, stressed now as to making enough profits, will start charging the average checking account holder $30 a month. “Safe” and insured cash accounts may pay even less. Credit card fees could rise, especially for the “freeloaders” who actually pay their balances every month, having at least a small effect on their own personal liquidity. Discounts for cash (while legal now, as at some gas stations) could become more common (there would exist some restrictions).

But on Saturday, June 26, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard wrote a Business Day (p 1) column, “Wave of new rules to protect consumers”, link here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Congress, Fed face classic choices on economy: is it the old "workers v. investors" problem?

The progressive to liberal press is maintaining that, with all the deficit and debt problems, governments, especially our own Congress and Federal Reserve, are being too stingy with ordinary people. Yes, Londoners were greeted with “Tax and Axe” headlines yesterday, but David Leonhardt also provided a big op-ed in the New York Times Business section, “When caution carries risk”, link here.

The Fed, the liberals say, has the power to lift the economy, in a climate of zero inflation. But the Fed also fears stirring up new instability.

No one wants to say it, but an underlying problem is demographic: the population is getting older, and only sometimes healthier (the latter is what matters to employers), and quasi-entitlements can’t keep people alive or even spiritually fed forever.

The Washington Post has an editorial this morning, “Time for tough economic choices” along the same lines, again hitting the holdup on extending unemployment benefits, here. The Post writes “More than 40 percent of the unemployed have been without work for six months. More alarming, nearly one-fourth have been jobless for a year.” More than 2 million unemployed will lose benefits on July 10 if the Senate does not act.

Visitors might also want to peruse the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Judge blocks oil drilling moratorium, but probably will have little effect

As widely reported by now, federal judge Martin L. C. Feldman issued a ruling blocking the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on off-shore drilling, and the administration plans both to appeal his ruling and to issue a new ruling giving more details as to the reasons for the ban.

The judge used various metaphors in his ruling, including a comparison to banning air travel for everyone because sometimes airliners crash, or even banning all automobile driving. One could think of relevant metaphors with Internet usage.

On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria told his audience on his CNN discussion show that he believes that right now America needs to drill, and should not regard oil companies as enemies.

However, the media has reported that oil well containment capping devices, shutoff valves or concentrators intended to prevent blowouts or blowbacks may be inadequate on close to half of all underwater rigs for all oil companies. I guess Anderson Cooper will “keep ‘em honest.”  Here is ExxonMobil's corporate blog entry "Drilling Differently" from June 18, 2010, just before the judge's ruling (link).

The New York Times story by Charlies Savage is here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solar sunspots may not come back: what does that mean for climate change?

Stuart Clark, of New Scientist, has an important story on the “Health & Science” page of the Washington Post on Tuesday June 22, “Why is the Sun losing its spots? Scientists wonder if they’re seeing a calm before the storm of energy, or is it something new?” The link is here.

A real explosion of sun spots and solar storms could cause severe electromagnetic disturbances on Earth, especially to satellites, maybe even to electronics on the ground, like a mini EMP. There was an outburst in October 2003, on the same day that the WB’s “Smallville” aired an episode based on a solar flare (the prescience has to be coincidental).

However this time the sunspot cycle is not rebuilding back. There is some notion that this could relate to the colder winder in northern Europe last winter (as well as the US mid-Atlantic). Could lower levels of sunspots in the future let mankind off the hook in the global warming debate? That might delight the editoria at The Washington Times, but it sounds unlikely. As Al Gore says, nature doesn’t give out bailouts.

The hype on YouTube doesn’t agree that there is a lull, and that the Sun’s measles will come back with vengeance by 2011.

One other true thing: The Summer solstice happened yesterday. It’s all downhill now. For men, their biological solstice occurs at about age 25. Then it’s downhill racer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Supreme Court upholds ban on aiding terrorist groups, even for non-violent projects of those groups

The Supreme Court has upheld a federal law (part of the Patriot Act) prohibiting the provision of “material support” to terrorist organizations, even if only to support non-violent ends of those groups. The New York Times (June 21) story by Adan Liptak (“Supreme Court affirms ban on aiding groups tied to terror”) has link here.  The case is “Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project” with opinion link here.

The case involved a law project that wanted to help the Kurdish Worker’s Party, the PKK, achieve its ends through non-violent means. The groups named in the Secretary of State’s list maintained under the law include groups under the law, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Khmer Rouge and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The opinion, however, is far afield from any concerns that ordinary Internet speech assists terrorist-sponsoring groups. It would be interesting to speculate about the legal aspects of someone's posting on a "jihadist" website, for example.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oil companies ("the five sisters") don't worry about plagiarism

First, the Denver Post has an interesting “fact v fiction” chart on BP’s response, especially regarding the reference to marine wildlife expert , the late Peter Lutz, by Justin Pritchard, Tamara Lush and Holbrook Mohr, AP, here  on June 10.

Then today (June 16) the Washington Post reports, in a story by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, about the “plagiarism” among the five sister oil company giants in drafting up their oil recover spill plans (link here). The plans seem to have been written by a Texas consulting firm called “The Response Group”, link here.

Corporate America is not the right place to do creative, independent writing! And, teachers, don’t use corporate America as the place for examples are set for “academic integrity”.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Senate holds the unemployed hostage again, perhaps to a "free market cultural revolution"

The New York Times has an important editorial on the recurring issue of renewing extended unemployment benefits, which again has stalled. The piece is called “The Unemployed Held Hostage”, link (web url) here. Barbara Ehrenreich and Elizabeth Warren will love this article. Some Senators, including Democrats, are holding the unemployed hostage to some unrelated tax perks for the rich.

There are those who like the idea of a “free market cultural revolution” and who think that extended benefits give the unemployed unjustifiable leverage in actually looking for jobs that were better than ones they had held before. That’s not so far from how China is today.

BP emails show disregard of safety and corner cutting before accident; Kevin Costner's solution

Andrew Miller of ABC has a blog entry Monday, “BP Emails show disregard of Nightmare well”, with link here. The emails reveal a debate within the company about using “centralizers” on the rig shortly before the blowout. The link is here. The story comes from the column "Political Punch : Power, pop, and probings from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper."
The original rig had been damaged by Hurricane Ida in November, and BP was encountering unexpected utilization fees.

Here is actor Kevin Costner’s solution with a machine invented 12 years ago for oil filtering, a machine for which he is a major investor. Costner says that the technology has been known for years.

Here is CBS News’s YouTube interview

Monday, June 14, 2010

Florida Christian school asks pregnant teacher about morality, and when she tells, it fires her; woman fired from Citibank for being too "attractive"

A fourth grade teacher at the Southland Christian School in Florida was fired for violating the school’s “Christian morality standards” after she applied for maternity leave, and was asked if the child had been conceived before marriage and truthfully answered yes. Jarretta Hamilton appeared on the Today Show on Monday June 14 with her husband and baby daughter and lawyer, who said that private employers with more than 50 employees are held to federal non-discrimination standards (pregnancy?) and that teachers are not included in the ministerial exception for church-owned employers.

The Examiner has a story dated June 12 about the incident here

The lawyer said she had never signed a contract agreeing to specific rules about private sexual behavior ("fornication"), and the teacher said that the school publicized the reason for her firing.

This does sound like "asking and telling."

Can private schools do what they want when it comes to “private sexual morality” if they take no government funds? Is this like the Boy Scouts?

It sounds like this school would have behaved like Cracker Barrel a number of years ago with gay teachers.

Picture (unrelated): football field at new Washington-Lee High School, Arlington VA, where I graduated in 1961.

Here's another curious story about private employment on NBC Today: A woman (Debrahlee Lorenzana) was fired from Citibank for "being too attractive".  The firing happened in summer 2008 before the financial crisis. She said she was pulled aside by HR and told how to dress because she attracted too much attention.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Is the "nuclear option" for sealing or relieving Gulf oil spill as good as anything?

Could BP of the IS military really use a small tactical nuclear weapon to stop the Deepwriter Horizon oil leak? Well, the “Mad Hedge Fund Transfer” seems to think so, with a June 4 article here. I never knew that underground tests in Nevada had leaked some radiation that killed two ranchers back in the 50s or 60s, probably leading to a Roswell-style coverup. The article says that we face a “Katrina v. Chernobyl” environmental catastrophe anyway. The administration has been nixing this idea, according to a New York Times article by William J. Broad on June 4 (“Nuclear option on oil spill? No way, U.S. says”, link here.

MSNBC has an article today (June 13) discussing the perils of digging relief wells, here.

RussiaToday has a YouTube video on the nuke option, which was first used in 1963 on a Siberian gas well that had exploded and burned for three years.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Maryland court rules that state cannot prohibit charging for fortuntelling services

Maryland’s state supreme court ruled on Thursday June 10 that the state cannot prohibit people from charging or making a living from fortunetelling, according to a Washington Post Metro story on June 11, here.

The court wrote in a 24-page opinion “Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum…People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

The plaintiff was a self-described gypsy Nick Nefedro, who had practiced his profession in Florida and California, and tried Bethesda, MD. But he found out that Montgomery County MD would not give him a business license.

This certainly sounds like a libertarian issue.

When I lived in Minneapolis, I paid $15 for a fortune telling at a block party on Hennepin Ave. The fortune teller, a woman, told me that a particular male “boy friend” had been a female and spouse in a past life near the beginning of the 20th Century. (But as for polarities, I was the owner of “the eternal feminine.”)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Full DC statehood effort could return

Efforts to “shoot for the moon” on DC statehood are coming back as efforts to get the District of Columbia a full vote in the House of Representatives (whether or not that representative turns out to be Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D)) flounder for years, according to a Metro Section story in the Washington Post on Thursday, June 10 by Mike DeBonis, link here.

With Democratic control in Congress, it’s a little more likely that the District could get two senators, but the 2010 “midterm exams” in November will probably take that away.

Growing up in northern Virginia in the 1950s, I always heard rationalizations for denying DC residents the vote (as well as a winning baseball team -- remember the Senators??) and even home rule. Even then, I understood that they were thinly veiled racism.

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Peak oil" concerns create a "collapsitarian" movement

Peak Oil is back on the table of sustainability parlance, according to an article on p 19 of the Sunday June 6 New York Times by John Leland, “Imagining life without oil, and being ready”, link here.

A significant minority of citizens believe that a fiat economy can collapse once it becomes apparent that oil supplies will constantly shrink, because no other centralized energy source is practical. Of course, such pessimistic views don’t factor in the possibility of local solar and wind energy (even on homes), and eventually a fleet of automobiles that don’t need oil to run on.

The same arguments envision locally grown organic food and accepting a degree of local interdependence as essential to sustainability. I suppose they could comport with the “natural family” argument, although that mindset is often put out by conservatives in a manner that envisions a world of plenty.

The paper article uses the term “collapsitarians”, rather than survivalists – as somewhat a concept that can come from the political left as well as right.

Netflix offers a 2007 film directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack about peak oil, “A Crude Awakening”. And two Canadian documentaries by Gregory Greene, “The End of Suburbia” and “Escape from Suburbia” also examine peak oil.

Video on peak oil from Journeyman pictures.  There is a longer video (45 min) that I'll have to track down.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Should BP be put into "temporary" receivership?

Saturday afternoon CNN trotted out Ms. Huffington and (himself) Robert Reich, who explained “Why Obama should put BP under temporary receivership”, link here.

Huffington pointed out the health problems of the cleanup workers and BP’s lack of credibility in its response so far.

Reich insisted that the receivership would be short-term and would end with the completion of cleanup (whenever that can be).

But even the thought that the government could perform a Venezuelan-style “people’s” expropriation of oil company equity would discourage investors, stop exploration, and damage the portfolios of many retirees and pension funds.

Some conservatives (or perhaps libertarians) have told me that the real problem is that the lack of shallow water drilling permits drives companies into deeper water, where the drilling is inevitably more dangerous.

Wikipedia attribution link for old p.d. photo of BP trademark.

Friday, June 04, 2010

BP Oil Spill is "our fault" (The Washington Times); remember Spindletop?

So, here we go again with “drill baby drill”, which won’t happen for some time. The Washington Times has an editorial by Ted Nugent, “Oil Spill Is Our Fault: We want cheap energy and no consequences”, link here. This isn't the time for Robin William's and his assurances to Matt Damon's character in "Good Will Hunting". In the mean time, oil globules reach the Pensacola Coast this morning and computer models having oil reaching the US East Coast and even crossing the Atlantic to Europe.

We heard this "personal responsibility" argument during the 1970s with the Arab oil embargo and even-odd gasoline rationing (and the threat that Nixon might even impose WWII-style coupon gasoline rationing; the coupons actually did get printed up.)

Nugent writes with some contempt toward “woefully ignorant Americans with hypocritical attitudes.” But there was just as much of that in the 1970s. In 1979 it came back again, with a brief oil crisis instigated by change of power in Iran; on the East Coast that winter, gasoline stations were closed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

We’ve talked about energy independence for a long time, and done little. And now we have climate change and peak oil to think about.

An BP has to reassure investors that it will be around a year from now.

I remember that back in the 1950s my father got a copy of the book “Spindletop” for Christmas (I think it’s the same as the book by Clark and Halbouty). Too bad the book doesn’t seem to be around the house now.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Lucas geyser.  I last visited the area in 1979.  (I also once lived in an apartment on Lucas St. in Dallas, in the Oak Lawn section.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"Pay your dues" by scrubbing oil off grass in Gulf marshlands

Anderson Cooper AC360 tonight described a cadre of workers hired by BP to manually wash oil off of grass in marsh and estuaries. There are about 40 workers present, when there would be a need for hundreds. The people were hired by BP on condition that they not talk to reporters (especially Anderson Cooper who keeps ‘em honest) or blog or tweet about the work.

This sounds like cleaning out the grease pit with a toothbrush when on KP, which I had to do in the Army in Special Training Company on March 31, 1968 at Fort Jackson SC in Tent City.

It sounds indeed like a way to “pay your dues”. Bring on the Cultural Revolution, at least a “free market cultural revolution”, or FMCR. How many people can do these manual labor jobs, that my father saw as a necessary component of virtue?

What do they call BP -- "bi polar"?  This was supposed to be the "green" oil company!

Tony Hayward says "I want my life back."  And the pundits say, like pastor Rick Warren, "it's not about you."  So he Hayward says "we will get this done, we will make this right."

BP doesn't just have a PR problem, it has a "substantive problem" (CNN).