February 4, 2015 archive

The Anti-Vaxxer Hoax

In the last few years there have been increasing reports of outbreaks of childhood diseases that were thought to have been eradicated, or at least very rare occurring in UN-vaccinated migrant populations and third world countries. In the last few months, there have been outbreaks of pertussis and measles in cities across the US. This is troubling and the main cause appears to be a growing group of people who have fallen for a debunk premise that vaccines for these diseases were somehow linked to the rise in autism. The British doctor who wrote that paper has been prosecuted for fraud and has lost his license to even practice medicine. Let’s be very clear about these vaccines. They are safe and they work. There is no debate, or at least there shouldn’t be.

MSNBC’s “All In” host Chris Hayes is joined by Retro Report‘s Bonnie Bertram to trace the current anti-vaccine movement back to one debunked, discredited study published in 1998.

Yet, the myth persists and it is putting not only the children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them but everyone else. Now, right wing politicians who are vying for the 2016 presidential campaign have been pandering for the votes of these ignorant people. The hypocrisy of the politicians reeks:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers – including Mr. Christie – who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

Yet, they think that it’s OK for parents not to vaccinate their children against diseases that are far more contagious and killed more than the the two people who contracted Ebola from Eric Duncan who died of the disease in Dallas.

There was one far right presidential hopeful that actually said something that made sense:

Ben Carson, a potential Republican presidential candidate, on Monday strongly backed vaccinations, splitting from two possible rivals who suggested parents should decide whether to immunize their children.

“Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, told The Hill in a statement.

“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them,” he added.

There should be few exemptions to getting vaccinated and those should only be for persons who have a medical contraindication to vaccination, not religion or some personal philosophy. The ignorant and dangerous anti-vaccination movement needs to be stopped and all children eligible for vaccines should get them, as soon as possible.


How the NSA Stole Your Privacy

FISA Court Rubberstamped NSA’s Questionable Legal Theories To Grant It Expanded Surveillance Powers

by Tim Cushing, Tech Dirt

Tue, Feb 3rd 2015

More documents have been yanked out of the NSA’s hands, thanks to a New York Times FOIA lawsuit. The documents are from 2007, and they further detail the agency’s warrantless surveillance program which swept up not only phone numbers but also email addresses and content. The program wasn’t actually legal at the time it rolled out. It took the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to codify this. In the meantime, the agency used interim legislation (2007’s Protect America Act) and some hubris to enhance its haystacking business.

Rather than use the standard definition of a “facility” — that being a base of operations — the NSA chose to read it as an impossible combination of noun and verb. An email address is a “facility” because it “facilitates communications.” Vinson wasn’t too impressed with this, or the fact that the application didn’t contain much in the way of probable cause. As he noted, the NSA’s intention was to collect both sets of data in bulk, far from the targeted surveillance it attempted to portray in its application.

The May 2007 order (also by Roger Vinson) shows that the NSA found a way to get its aims accomplished, despite Vinson’s reluctance. A “new legal theory” was offered by the agency in an amended application and buttressed by Keith Alexander’s declaration that it was all totally legal.

Unfortunately, the order doesn’t detail the NSA’s legal theory, or at least not in any visible way. Vinson’s musings on the NSA’s Plan B turns out to be a bunch of wasted typing. His declaration that on the “basis of facts submitted by the applicant, there is probable cause to believe that…:” is followed by four completely redacted pages.

Following that, Vinson authorizes the NSA’s “roving, multipoint” surveillance, based on the opinion that Congress would have authorized that (and apparently pretty much anything else it may or may not have conceived of) considering the “Government’s national security interests are so great.” This rationale again. And again, presented by an agency whose livelihood depends on the depiction of security threats as perennially “great” and everlasting. Vinson also agreed to contact-chaining using these numbers and email addresses as selectors.

And so, the domestic surveillance that wasn’t (this order — and past ones — draws a very clear line between foreign targets and known US persons) becomes a handy tool for domestic surveillance. As the court notes earlier in the order, because of where the communications and data are collected, there’s no real way to separate US/non-US data without digging through the collection. When it’s discovered, minimization procedures are to apply — except, apparently, if it can hand the data/communications off to the FBI. (The CIA, on the other hand, gets everything, domestic or foreign, apparently only subject to the NSA’s discretion.)

Again, this entire line of surveillance still hadn’t been determined to be completely legal. It took the FISA Amendments Act to codify this particular program. Despite that, it was approved anyway, thanks to the NSA’s willingness to explore as many legal theories as necessary in order to secure the FISA judge’s approval.

That’s the problem with these two orders. We don’t get to see the NSA’s legal wranglings. Those are redacted. And what is actually revealed doesn’t explain much. The May 2007 order notes that the NSA’s arguments are still on shaky ground and the earlier (and much longer) April order handles the entirety of the agency’s legal discussions on its contact-chaining of unrelated “facilities” in a single paragraph.

Simply mentioning a targeted email in the body of an email message is enough “probable cause” for the FISA court, which goes on to note that it’s perfectly OK (in the search for supporting probable cause) for the agency to read nearly any communication that crosses its desk, provided it’s within a step or two of its selectors.

The NSA didn’t get to where it is today overnight. It took a decade of legal wrangling and the steadfast assertion that the terrorist threat to the US is just as strong as it was September 10, 2001. With the assistance of obliging courts and sympathetic legislators, the NSA has become a data and communications behemoth, sucking in vast quantities of both from all over the world.

On This Day In History February 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 4 is the 35th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 330 days remaining until the end of the year (331 in leap years).

On this day in 1789, George Washington becomes the first and only president to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College. He repeated this notable feat on the same day in 1792.

The peculiarities of early American voting procedure meant that although Washington won unanimous election, he still had a runner-up, John Adams, who served as vice president during both of Washington’s terms. Electors in what is now called the Electoral College named two choices for president. They each cast two ballots without noting a distinction between their choice for president and vice president. Washington was chosen by all of the electors and therefore is considered to have been unanimously elected. Of those also named on the electors’ ballots, Adams had the most votes and became vice president.

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775-1783, and he presided over the writing of the Constitution in 1787. As the unanimous choice to serve as the first President of the United States (1789-1797), he developed the forms and rituals of government that have been used ever since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address. As President he built a strong, well-financed national government that avoided war, suppressed rebellion and won acceptance among Americans of all types, and Washington is now known as the “Father of his country”.

In Colonial Virginia, Washington was born into the provincial gentry in a wealthy, well connected family that owned tobacco plantations using slave labor. Washington was home schooled by his father and older brother but both died young and Washington became attached to the powerful Fairfax clan. They promoted his career as surveyor and soldier. Strong, brave, eager for combat and a natural leader, young Washington quickly became a senior officer of the colonial forces, 1754-58, during the first stages of the French and Indian War. Indeed, his rash actions helped precipitate the war. Washington’s experience, his military bearing, his leadership of the Patriot cause in Virginia, and his political base in the largest colony made him the obvious choice of the Second Continental Congress in 1775 as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to fight the British in the American Revolution. He forced the British out of Boston in 1776, but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the dead of winter he defeated the enemy in two battles, retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. Because of his strategy, Revolutionary forces captured two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Negotiating with Congress, governors, and French allies, he held together a tenuous army and a fragile nation amid the threats of disintegration and invasion. Historians give the commander in chief high marks for his selection and supervision of his generals, his encouragement of morale, his coordination with the state governors and state militia units, his relations with Congress, and his attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was repeatedly outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies. Washington is given full credit for the strategies that forced the British evacuation of Boston in 1776 and the surrender at Yorktown in 1781. After victory was finalized in 1783, Washington resigned rather than seize power, and returned to his plantation at Mount Vernon, proving his opposition to dictatorship and his commitment to republican government.

Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787 because of his dissatisfaction with the weaknesses of Articles of Confederation that had time and again impeded the war effort. Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789. He attempted to bring rival factions together in order to create a more unified nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton‘s programs to pay off all the state and national debts, implement an effective tax system, and create a national bank, despite opposition from Thomas Jefferson. Washington proclaimed the U.S. neutral in the wars raging in Europe after 1793. He avoided war with Britain and guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although never officially joining the Federalist Party, he supported its programs. Washington’s “Farewell Address” was an influential primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

Washington had a vision of a great and powerful nation that would be built on republican lines using federal power. He sought to use the national government to improve the infrastructure, open the western lands, create a national university, promote commerce, found a capital city (later named Washington, D.C.), reduce regional tensions and promote a spirit of nationalism. “The name of AMERICAN,” he said, must override any local attachments.” At his death Washington was hailed as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. The Federalists made him the symbol of their party, but for many years the Jeffersonians continued to distrust his influence and delayed building the Washington Monument. As the leader of the first successful revolution against a colonial empire in world history, Washington became an international icon for liberation and nationalism. His symbolism especially resonated in France and Latin America. Historical scholars consistently rank him as one of the two or three greatest presidents.

The Breakfast Club (Taken By The Wind)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

World War II’s Yalta Conference; O.J. Simpson found liable for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend; Patty Hearst kidnapped; the Massachusetts gay marriage ruling; aviator Charles Lindbergh born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.


Stupid Shit by LaEscapee


Late Night Karaoke

The Daily/Nightly Show (Adam & Steve)

So tonight’s topic is Gay Marriage and all I’ve really got to say is we’re talking about it why?

Oh, Mike Huckabee said something stupid and bigoted about it and he’s thinking about running for president (again).  Well, he’s a stupid bigot so of course he says stupid and bigoted things and he’s not really running for president, he just wants to scam some more money from the stupid and bigoted people he represents and also those deep pocketed Billionaires who think the stupid and bigoted vote is an important part of the Republican coalition and want to keep the rubes in line by throwing them a bone.

You see it’s all about the ick factor and if any of these Bozos had the least scrap of religious integrity they wouldn’t be picking and choosing which parts of Leviticus to honor.  Thank goodness as an Atheist I think it’s all superstitious non-sense and don’t have to do any thelogical contortions to justify my regard for blended fabrics, cheeseburgers, and any number of delicious things made from pork and non scaly water life either singly or in combination.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not militant about it.  I’m perfectly content to let you fester in ignorance, salving life’s numerous disappointments and injustices with the laugable belief that there’s some sugar daddy in the sky with a big rock candy mountain and you’ll get you piece of the pie bye and bye, bye and bye.  That’s why Marx called it the opiate of the masses.  Why worry about how much your life here sucks and who’s to blame for it if by your slavish worship and utter conformity you’ll live in eternal bliss.

After you’re just a little too dead to enjoy it of course, but we don’t make the rules.  Oh wait, we do!

Were I really keeping it 100 I’d ask Larry why so many of the poor and minorities buy into fundamentalism, but I think for the most part I’ve just answered that question.

Personally I don’t think there’s a lot of grist in this mill for Larry to work with and I wish they’d get him better topics but maybe we could stand to loose the weight.

That’s called portion control.


The Magic Gap

This week’s guests-

The Daily Show

Tonight’s guest, Bill Browder, has a very sad tale to tell of how his friend and attorney was arrested, tortured, and killed by Putin at the behest of Putin’s oligarch friends and how he, as a true patriot, stood up to evil D.C. State Department bureaucrats and with the help of a few brave Senators, forced the administration to accept truly effective sanctions on those nasty Russ.  It’s the subject of his new book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.  Don’t judge this one by it’s cover.  Bill Browder is a hedge fund manager who got booted by Putin in 2005 for corruption so he has his own agenda working and I’d take this with enough salt to show up in my bloodwork (and that’s quite a bit, my Sodium levels are rock steady).

Martin Short’s 2 part web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.


Never allow others inside.

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.

Friedrich Nietzsche

You think you know, yet you honestly don’t.

I can tell you how to approach the precipice.      

Don’t follow me because I tend to go headlong into the abyss.