Daily Archives: January 27, 2015

No wonder he raced to get there

I hope I'm not too late

I hope I’m not too late

New Saudi king oversees his first public beheading since assuming power

President addressed the Kingdom’s poor human rights record before embarking on his visit. He acknowledged that the US willingness to pursue close ties with Saudi Arabia despite human rights abuses often makes America’s allies uncomfortable.

“Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability,” he told CNN.

Mr Obama also suggested he would not be raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, who was convicted of insulting Islam and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.


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Daughter Sarah sends along inspiration from Maine

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January 27, 2015 · 12:57 pm

Obama and his Justice Department

No, YOU da man!

No, YOU da man!

WSJ: DEA is tracking millions of citizens under the guise of enforcing drug laws.

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, according to current and former officials and government documents.

The primary goal of the license-plate tracking program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.

Many state and local law-enforcement agencies are accessing the database for a variety of investigations, according to people familiar with the program, putting a wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways.

A spokesman for Justice Department, which includes the DEA, said the program complies with federal law. “It is not new that the DEA uses the license-plate reader program to arrest criminals and stop the flow of drugs in areas of high trafficking intensity,’’ the spokesman said.

The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.

The documents show that the DEA also uses license-plate readers operated by state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies to feed into its own network and create a far-reaching, constantly updating database of electronic eyes scanning traffic on the roads to steer police toward suspects.

The law-enforcement scanners are different from those used to collect tolls.

By 2011, the DEA had about 100 cameras feeding into the database, the documents show. On Interstate 95 in New Jersey, license-plate readers feed data to the DEA—giving law-enforcement personnel around the country the ability to search for a suspect vehicle on one of the country’s busiest highways. One undated internal document shows the program also gathers data from license-plate readers in Florida and Georgia.

“Any database that collects detailed location information about Americans not suspected of crimes raises very serious privacy questions,’’ said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU. “It’s unconscionable that technology with such far-reaching potential would be deployed in such secrecy. People might disagree about exactly how we should use such powerful surveillance technologies, but it should be democratically decided, it shouldn’t be done in secret.’’

The national vehicle database program was launched in 2008 and opened to participating state and local authorities a year later.

The effort began in border states like Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, but the goal has always been expansion, according to current and former federal officials and documents. Officials wouldn’t say how many other states are now feeding data into the system, citing concerns that disclosing such information could help criminals avoid detection.

The disclosure of the DEA’s license-plate reader database comes on the heels of other revelations in recent months about the Justice Department, as well as the agencies it runs, gathering data about innocent Americans as it searches for criminals.

In November, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Marshals Service flies planes carrying devices that mimic cellphone towers in order to scan the identifying information of Americans’ phones as it searches for criminal suspects and fugitives. Justice Department officials have said the program is legal.

Earlier this month, the DEA filed court documents indicating that for more than a decade it had gathered the phone records of Americans calling foreign countries, without judicial oversight, to sift through that data looking for drug suspects. That program was canceled in 2013.

The “War on Drugs” persists because it gives government a shroud under which to hide its worst abuses. No wonder politicians like it so much.


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Alas poor philosophy; I knew it well

Former Berkley radical, now Old Greenwich dentist, Dr. Ernest Whittle, reflects on Locke

Former Berkley radical, now Old Greenwich dentist, Dr. Ernest Whittle  reflects on Locke

Berkley philosophy students demand an end to the study of dead white males.

We are calling for an occupation of syllabi in the social sciences and humanities. This call to action was instigated by our experience last semester as students in an upper-division course on classical social theory. Grades were based primarily on multiple-choice quizzes on assigned readings. The course syllabus employed a standardized canon of theory that began with Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men. The syllabus did not include a single woman or person of color.

We have major concerns about social theory courses in which white men are the only authors assigned. These courses pretend that a minuscule fraction of humanity — economically privileged white males from five imperial countries (England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States) — are the only people to produce valid knowledge about the world. This is absurd. The white male syllabus excludes all knowledge produced outside this standardized canon, silencing the perspectives of the other 99 percent of humanity.

The white male canon is not sufficient for theorizing the lives of marginalized people. None of the thinkers we studied in this course had a robust analysis of gender or racial oppression. They did not even engage with the enduring legacies of European colonial expansion, the enslavement of black people and the genocide of indigenous people in the Americas. Mentions of race and gender in the white male canon are at best incomplete and at worst racist and sexist. We were required to read Hegel on the “Oriental realm” and Marx on the “Asiatic mode of production,” but not a single author from Asia. We were required to read Weber on the patriarchy, but not a single feminist author. The standardized canon is obsolete: Any introduction to social theory that aims to be relevant to today’s problems must, at the very least, address gender and racial oppression.

… Furthermore, the classroom environment felt so hostile to women, people of color, queer folks and other marginalized subjects that it was difficult for us to focus on the course material. Sometimes, we were so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of lecture. For example, when lecturing on Marx’s idea of the “natural division of labor between men and women,” the professor attributed some intellectual merit to this idea because men and women are biologically distinct from each other, because women give birth while men do not. One student asked, “What about trans* people?” to which the professor retorted, “There will always be exceptions.” Then, laughing, the professor teased, “We may all be transgender in the future.” Although one might be tempted to dismiss these remarks as a harmless attempt at humor, mocking trans* people and calling them “exceptions” is unacceptable.

This was not an isolated incident. In another lecture, the professor cited the highly racialized case of the Hurricane Katrina fallout as an example of people in a poor, brutish, Hobbesian “state of nature.” Moreover, he talked about Native American traditions and beliefs as examples of illogical and irrational superstition. All of these incidents are connected to a larger systemic problem with inclusion in classroom spaces at UC Berkeley.

We need to create classroom spaces where everyone can feel welcome. We recommend that instructors attend workshops on inclusivity in the classroom, such as those offered by the Gender Equity Resource Center.

[A] sk yourself: Are your identities and the identities of people you love reflected on these syllabi? Whose perspectives and life experiences are excluded? Is it really worth it to accumulate debt for such an epistemically poor education?

There was a time – my time, in fact- when a major in philosophy was some kind of evidence that one had been trained in logic, writing and objective reasoning. It even suggested an ability to hear, even participate in, “uncomfortable” discussions. No more.

Rather unsettling to think that these students will be in your children’s classrooms in the near future.


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Fox News

Emergency shelters, Tod's Point, Blizzard of 2015

Emergency shelters, Tod’s Point, Blizzard of 2015

Reader “Fox” commented,

“Am I the only one to be concerned by the increasing tendency of big government to order sweeping shutdowns and travel bans whenever a flake of snow or other anticipated “threat” is in the offing?

I’m not arguing with the practical reasons for such actions but the fact that the pols think they have the right to do so. Nanny Nazism is ugly.”

I’ve made the same observation over the pst few years, as panic has combined with political muscle-flexing to produce absurd results. Now, of all people, Henry Blodget has caught on. 

I haven’t seen official snowfall totals yet, but judging from a glance out the window, it looks as if New York City might have gotten about 6 inches Monday night.

Meanwhile, the entire city is shut down.

Schools, government, public transportation, private transportation, and — by virtue of the lack of transportation — most offices and businesses.

It’s just absurd.

I’ve lived in New York for almost my whole life — 48 years and counting. I have seen the city weather many actually large snowstorms, including a 26-incher just a few years go. The city stayed open through all of them. The garbage-trucks-turned-snow-plows drove until the streets were clear enough for adventurous buses, trucks, and cars. The subways and buses ran. Airports remained mostly open. Homeowners shoveled their walks. Pedestrians navigated big snow piles and slush lakes. Car owners waited until they just couldn’t wait any longer and then chipped their cars out of the massive ice-walls that had built up around them.

In short, the city slowed down for a little while. And, maybe, in extreme circumstances, schools shut down for a day or two. But the whole city never closed.

And this wasn’t because massive snowstorms weren’t forecast, by the way.

I can remember as a kid many times hearing excitement build at school about an impending blizzard that might blast the city and give us all an unplanned vacation day (and, at the same time, force parents with jobs and plans to scramble to figure out what to do with us). I can remember staying up late into the night, peering out my window into the snow, hoping enough would pile up that, early the next morning, just before I had to leave for school, the call would finally come.

But it rarely did.

Because snowstorms are hard to forecast. And reports of huge dumps are often wrong.

But by early evening Monday, with this storm already later and smaller than expected, this entire city had already been shut down.

I understand that one job of politicians is to “protect the people.” I understand that they want to appear responsive and proactive, lest they later be accused of slacking on the job.

But there’s a difference between serving the public by providing basic emergency services in a timely and responsive manner and becoming a nanny state.

And at least today, New York has become a nanny state.



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Next! The media refuses to admit the blizzard didn’t happen

After spending most of Sunday and yesterday warning of the “snowmageddon” bearing down on New York City, only to watch that fizzle, the media has simply shifted its coverage to where the snow did fall, and is making no mention of what didn’t happen in NYC. Nothing to see here, let’s Move On™. Talk about burying the lede.

See if you can find the first mention of NYC as it appears in this Associated Press story. {UPDATE: They’ve amended it to mention NYC now – wasn’t that way when I first saw it and posted this]

Snow unleashes blizzard conditions on parts of Northeast

NEW YORK (AP) — A storm packing blizzard conditions spun up the East Coast early Tuesday, pounding parts of coastal New Jersey northward through Maine with high winds and heavy snow.

While the storm failed to live up to predictions in some areas, [nope: no mention of NYC means no credit] eastern Long Island north through Massachusetts and Maine were expected to fare the worst, with 1 to 3 feet of snow, punishing hurricane-force winds and the possibility of some coastal flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

Bruce Sullivan of the National Weather Service said Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, could get about 2 feet.

Some areas of Massachusetts received more than a foot of snow by early Tuesday; Plymouth had almost 16 inches, Shrewsbury almost 15, and Sandwich had 13 inches of snow.

In Maine and New Hampshire, a state of emergency has been declared, and government offices in both states are closed Tuesday.

Parts of Long Island are dealing with hazardous conditions, with snow falling 2 inches per hour. Islip had 14.7 inches of snow by early Tuesday. Blizzard warnings were lifted for New York City and New Jersey early Tuesday. [no mention of why those warnings were lifted, but okay]

Sections of New York were forecast to see from 10 to 20 inches of snow, and a 60-mile stretch of the New York Thruway in the Hudson Valley remained closed. In Hartford, Connecticut, up to a foot of snow was expected, while Philadelphia and central New Jersey were spared the brunt of the storm and expected to get about 6 inches.

Gusty winds blew through the northeast, with sustained winds of 15 to 25 mph. The NWS said higher gusts were reported from New Jersey to near Boston, where the winds were clocked at 40 to 50 mph. The weather service says a wind gust of 78 mph was reported on Nantucket, and a 72 mph gust was reported in Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard.

The National Weather Service over the weekend had issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions.

On Monday, life abruptly stopped across the region as officials ordered workers to go home early, banned travel, closed bridges and tunnels, and assembled their biggest plowing crews.

“When you wake up in the morning, it is going to look like a blizzard,” said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, echoing the concern of many government leaders.

Light snow fell steadily early Tuesday in midtown Manhattan as a few municipal trucks rumbled down empty streets. The city had an almost eerie, post 9/11 feel to it: No airplanes in the sky. An unexpected quiet.

Brandon Bhajan, a security guard at a West 33rd Street building, said the situation early Tuesday was better than expected.

“We expected a lot more accumulation,” Bhajan said. “I feel like the wind is more of the problem than the actual snowfall. It’s rough to walk and it’s very, very cold.

“I don’t think they (city) overblew it. I think it’s like the situation with Ebola … if you over-cover people are ready and prepared rather than not giving it the attention it needs.”

More than 7,700 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Schools and businesses let out early. Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets and elbowed one another for what was left. Broadway stages went dark.

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to go home and stay there, adding: “People have to make smart decisions from this point on.”

Commuters like Sameer Navi, 27, of Long Island, were following the advice.

In New Jersey, plows and salt spreaders remained at work on the roads Monday night in Ocean County, one of the coastal areas that was expected to be among the hardest hit. There was a coating of snow on the roads but hardly any vehicles were traveling on them, as residents seemed content to stay indoors and monitor the storm in comfort.

Most businesses in the area had gone dark, including some convenience stores and gas stations.

Ben Shickel went grocery shopping in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and found shelves had been cleaned out.

“We’re used to these big snowstorms in New England, but 2 to 3 feet all at once and 50 to 60 mph winds? That’s a different story,” he said.

On Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange said it would operate normally Tuesday.

Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly in New Jersey and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Officials in New Jersey shore towns warned people to move their cars off the streets and away from the water.

Utility companies across the region put additional crews on standby to deal with anticipated power outages.


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“Blizzard of 2015”, brought to you by the same people who claim to know the exact weather in 2030

Greenwich Avenue: shoppers line up to get refunds for the shovels and salt they bought yesterday

Greenwich Avenue: shoppers line up to get refunds for the shovels and salt they bought yesterday

Nothing doing – how many $millions were lost by shutting down businesses, roads and schools for this non-event?


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Is the blizzard a bust?

So far, it is – I was out just now, and it looks like we’ve received a mere 3″ or so, and only very light snow is falling. Weather.com is predicting only another 3″, while holding to its forecast of major snow further up in New England. Other sites say the real snow will start arriving around 5:00 AM. I love love love blizzards, and I’ll be hugely disappointed if this one passes us by, but it would almost be worth that let-down if we get to watch the global warmists, who just yesterday were blaming the “blizzard” on global warming, scramble all over themselves explaining that the lack of snow was, in fact, the entirely predictable result of, umm, global warming. It’s never just weather, with these guys.

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