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5 Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Repeal the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act

If you’ve been following changes to American surveillance law since 2001, you’ll know that most of the U.S. government’s surveillance activities are propped up by two laws: the USA Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.  The Patriot Act authorized agents of the United States government to seize information about the activities of law-abiding Americans — their spending habits, their reading habits, their travels, their offices — without a search warrant.  The FISA Amendments Act retroactively legalized an explicitly illegal and unconstitutional electronic surveillance dragnet that grabbed data from private cell phone calls, email, gps devices, financial transactions, and other online activity – all without a search warrant.  These surveillance activities were not limited to the Republican presidential administration of George W. Bush; they continue under the Democratic presidential administration of Barack Obama.  They continue to violate the explicit requirement of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution that no searches of a person’s property, papers or effects shall occur without a specific warrant issued describing probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and describing a specific, particular subject and place for a search.

H.R. 1466, introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of last week, is a bill that would repeal both the USA Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act. But as of right now, the bill has just five official supporters: only one principal sponsor and four cosponsors have signed their names on in support of the bill.  They are:

[Co]Sponsor Date Cosponsored
Rep. Pocan, Marc [D-WI-2] — bill author and principal sponsor 03/19/2015
Rep. Massie, Thomas [R-KY-4] 03/19/2015
Rep. Grayson, Alan [D-FL-9] 03/19/2015
Rep. McGovern, James P. [D-MA-2] 03/19/2015
Rep. Doggett, Lloyd [D-TX-35] 03/19/2015

This bill’s introduction is particularly timely, considering that important provisions of the USA Patriot Act are scheduled to expire June 1, 2015 without congressional action.  That’s in just 2 1/2 months — have you heard anything about that?  Some members of Congress plan to try to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act quickly and quietly — but public recognition and debate of H.R. 1466 would make that subterfuge impossible.  So Take Action Today – Call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your U.S. Representative. Leave a message at his or her office explaining why you do not support the USA Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act.  Request politely but firmly that your Representative cosponsor  H.R. 1466.

CafePress Cuts Marketplace Pay For Designers In Half

Six years ago, CafePress slashed the income of a huge number of independent designers when it announced that, in order to be listed on the CafePress marketplace, designers would have to agree to take only 10 percent of the profit on the gear featuring their designs.

Now, CafePress has done it again. CafePress announced last week that designers who choose to retain a place on the CafePress marketplace will now only receive 5 percent of the profit from the sale of its gear. That’s a 50 percent pay cut.

This decision comes in the wake of news last month that its fourth quarter sales, typically the strongest sales quarter of the year, were in decline last year.

Undercutting the designers who make its business run isn’t likely to help CafePress reverse that decline.

At Irregular Times, we pulled our shops from the CafePress marketplace years ago, when CafePress announced that it would seize the rights to sell marketplace-listed designs on any product it wanted to. This resulted not only in some quite inartful displays, but also forced CafePress designers to allow their marketplace designs to be sold on products that were produced in sweatshops.

For shop owners who keep control of their designs by withdrawing them from the marketplace, terms are unchanged from when they last were changed in 2013.

GOP Congressman Who Associates With Nazis Accuses Obama Of Attacking American Jobs

U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, who has become infamous for his association with racist extremists, having taken money from white supremacists, spoken as an honored guest at a convention of neo-Nazis, and met multiple times with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, is accusing President Barack Obama of being a dangerous radical.

Yesterday, Scalise condemned an update by the Bureau of Land Management to federal rules on hydrofracking on federal and Native American lands. The Hill explains that these rules “set standards for well construction to minimize the risk of groundwater or other contamination, strict requirements for disposal of the fluid that flows back out of the well and a mandate to publicly disclose the chemicals drillers use in them. In addition, disposal fluid must be stored in covered, above-ground tanks.”

Scalise called these rules “yet another attack on American jobs by President Obama”.

steve scalise fracking secrecyHydrofracking is a method that forces the release of methane from shale formations by injecting fluids with a chemical composition that is unknown to the public, cracking the ancient sedimentary rock. Methane is a fossil fuel that itself contributes even more strongly to global warming than carbon dioxide, and also produces large amounts of carbon dioxide when it is burned. Corporations that conduct fracking have long sought to keep the chemical composition of their fracking fluids secret from the American public.

The lands impacted by these rules make up only 17 percent of methane extraction in the United States, so the rules higher standards for well construction and disposal of fracking wastes wouldn’t singificantly impact the fracking industry. If anything, these requirements would create new jobs for people who engineer a new generation of fracking equipment and ensure compliance.

The only measure in these rules that will affect the fracking industry as a whole would be the required disclosure of the chemical contents of fracking fluids. So, this must be the measure that has pro-fracking Republicans like Steve Scalise truly concerned.

How will American jobs be reduced if fracking companies are forced to tell the public what they put in their fracking fluids? I suppose a few lawyers, whose job it is to file paperwork to defend frackers’ secrets, may be put out of work if the composition of fracking fluid is finally divulged, but no one else will lose work…

… unless we all learn that fracking fluids are so highly toxic that a public outcry will require an end to fracking.

If this is the case, America will be losing only jobs that involve the massive pollution of huge areas of the United States. These are the kinds of jobs our country can do without. We need more Americans working in jobs that keep us informed and maintain protection from toxic substances. Steve Scalise’s fossil fuels friends won’t give us that kind of work.

Spring Planning for the Garden

Spring is here!  What shall I plant in my garden plot?


Here’s that garden plot. Right now, a snow shovel is the most that I could plant.  But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming.  Right now, I’m dreaming of a plum tree.

What are your garden dreams?

Why Do Corporations Need Weeks To React Before Workers Hold Union Elections?

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to express disapproval of a rule issued by the National Labor Relations Board, stating that elections of leaders of labor unions can take place after a waiting period of 11 days or longer. Only three Republicans, Peter King, Frank LoBiondo, and Christopher Smith, voted against the resolution of censure. 232 Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, and 183 Democrats voted in opposition.

The new rule issued by the National Labor Relations Board shortens the length of time between the announcement of a union vote and an election in order to adjust to new communications technologies. Prior to the new rule, communications about labor union elections had to take place on paper, and be delivered in person, through means such as postal delivery. Now, in the 21st century, people can communicate much faster, using means such as email, social media, and web sites.

Why are Republicans in such a fury about this technological update? A right wing publication called The Blaze complains that, “The rule could force companies to allow these elections to happen as soon as 11 days after they’re notified, which Republicans say doesn’t give companies enough time to react.” Republicans call these “ambush elections”, but an ambush that takes 11 days to unfold doesn’t really surprise anyone.

What exactly do corporations want to do in reaction to union elections that cannot be accomplished in 11 days? They want to interfere in the elections, and intimidate workers from supporting union leaders of their own choice.

The longer delay that had been required before the new rule was being exploited by corporate lawyers to prevent the election of union leaders for extremely long periods of time. U.S. Representative Robert Scott explains, “The current process to hold an election on whether to form a union is badly broken. After workers have filed a petition to hold an election, bad actors can use frivolous litigation to stall an election for months, even years. Election delays can provide opportunities for unscrupulous employers to engage in threats, coercion, and intimidation of workers. These delays can be exploited to violate workers’ rights, including firing pro-union workers or threatening to close the plant if the workers choose to vote a certain way. We all know that the sanctions against violations are insufficient to deter the unscrupulous activities, including firing pro-union employees. Researchers from the Center for Labor Research and Education at Berkeley found that the longer the delay before the union election, the more likely the employer was to engage in illegal conduct that violates its employees’ rights. The NLRB election rule would help prevent the illegal intimidation and coercion of workers.”

What Is This Republican Diversity Rick Santorum Is Talking About?

rick santorum peachThe Washington Post quotes Rick Santorum as saying that the GOP is a home to ideological pluralism. “The Democratic Party in recent times has been sort of monolithic. The Republican Party has real diversity and really different ideas,” Santorum said.

Republican diversity? I would love to see that, but where is it? Where are the really different ideas offered by the GOP?

Who among the Republican presidential candidates is not a Christian? Where is the GOP candidate who says that America should be a Jewish nation, or a Hindu nation, or a Buddhist nation, rather than a Christian nation?

Where is the Republican presidential candidate who dares to talk about expanding health care or about spending more on education?

When are we going to see a Republican presidential candidate who owns up to the problem of climate change, and has a realistic plan for dealing with it?

How is it that there isn’t a single Republican presidential candidate who is willing to stand up against their party’s insistence upon deporting children who are American citizens and were born in the USA?

Where is the pro-choice Republican candidate? Where is the GOP presidential candidate who gets along with labor unions, or supports an increase in the minimum wage?

The Republican Party’s idea of diversity is agreeing to disagree about whether to take big campaign contributions from the oil industry or military contractors first.

Culture Waves in Congress, 1995-2014

In the Congressional Record over the last twenty years, here’s how many times the following phrases were uttered…

Congressional Record Memes, 1995-2014, Part I

Congressional Record Memes, 1995-2014, Part II

Congressional Record Memes, 1995-2014, Part III

Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks For President

It is a sign of the thin resources devoted by journalists and bloggers to the hunt for original content that nobody so far has written so far about the officially registered presidential campaign of Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks.

sydneys voluptuous buttocksYes, Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks is, or perhaps are, running for President of the United States in 2016. 15 days ago, the acceptance of her* petition to the FEC was posted online. The Buttocks for President campaign is independent of any political party.

(*There are no clear photographs of Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks on the Buttocks for President web site, but what is shown looks like it might be female. The buttocks are wearing sweats, so it’s difficult to tell.)

“Hopefully they do not take my unconventional name as a joke and I am accepted unto the ballot,” writes Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks, implying that yes, there really is a person living in Buffalo, New York under this name. However, I can find no record of such a person. If there were such a person, perhaps a low profile would be a wise strategy. It is difficult to believe that there would be an entire Buttocks family.

There seems to be no reluctance from Buttocks 2016 to capitalize on the unique quality of the Buttocks name. S.V.B. posts a “Buttology”, and asks visitors to “Please vote for Sydney’s Butt to be the president. After all, every politician is an asshole so what’s the difference?” Elsewhere, the candidate writes, “Are you upset about the recent political changed that have distorted the proud face of the American Nation? Do you know people who are facing economic difficulties because of a failing economic system? Do you feel that the assholes in charge need to be put to an end? If so, support the evolving political philosophy of Buttology and bring the tyrannical reign of terror to an end. Vote for Sydney’s butt as president and see how a politician can efficiently be replaced by a butt.”

sydneys voluptuous buttocks fec

So, Sydney’s Voluptuous Buttocks seems to be reflecting general discontent with politics as usual. There may be a bit more, though, to the campaign than general disgust with elected officials and the butt of jokes. The first Buttocks for President video is short on words, but seems to reflect a generally anti-war sentiment, echoed by the motto, embedded within a campaign graphic, “For world peace… and bears”.

sydney's voluptuous buttocks for president

Happy Anti-Pagan Anti-Protestant Religious Warfare Day!

Remember to wear green today, not orange, and not any other color…

…because it’s Anti-Pagan Anti-Protestant Religious Warfare Day!

May the luck of the church with the most powerful armies be with you!

kiss me my pagan heritage was exterminated

Kiss me! My pagan heritage was exterminated by the Catholic Church.

Rick Santorum, Barack Obama, War, and Evil

“I could spend an entire speech talking about how this president has ignored evil, has misinterpreted evil, has maybe even intentionally turned his back to evil and allowed it to prosper around the world… Unfortunately, this president is doing everything that is necessary to create conditions for evil to expand and for war to break out.”

This is what retired senator Rick Santorum had to say over the weekend about President Barack Obama. Santorum is preparing a campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2016.

rick santorum on evilBarack Obama is doing everything to create conditions for war to break out? Let’s not forget that it was Rick Santorum, not Barack Obama, who voted in favor of a rushed invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush, a decision that has led to over a decade of violence inside Iraq and neighboring countries.

Barack Obama is ignoring evil, misinterpreting evil, turned his back to evil, and created conditions for evil? It’s Rick Santorum, not Barack Obama, who has argued in favor of torture and opposed investigations of the architects of America’s torture, saying, “You break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative.”

Rick Santorum’s accusations that Barack Obama is a friend of evil came as part of Santorum’s demands that Barack Obama start a new war, this time against Iran. Would it be eeeeeeevil to start a new war against Iran? I don’t feel comfortable saying so, because I don’t feel Santorum’s brash confidence of being able to spot evil at the drop of a hat. I do feel comfortable saying this much: Starting a war against Iran just when Iran is making serious efforts at establishing peace with the United States, would bring unnecessary death and destruction to huge numbers of human beings – and that’s not good.

How Many in the Sea? Automatic Detection of Ribbon Seals

Ribbon Seal on IceIn 2008, J. Clifford wrote about the delisting of the ribbon seal under the Endangered Species Act, noting that the Bush administration was late in its determination but admiring the unusual deference to scientific opinion by the conservative president.  At the time, the ribbon seal numbers were listed at approximately 200,000.  In 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity sued to put the ribbon seal back under government protection, but agreed under negotiation to a process in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would make a reevaluation and finding by November 2010.  It took NOAA a few more years than that, but in July 2013, under the aegis of the Obama administration, NOAA issued a report drawing on available evidence to reaffirm the delisting of ribbon seals from protection.  According to NOAA, hunting of these seals has declined and threats to populations from declining ice extent are largely a concern for future years, not the present.

A fascinating aspect of this policy decision is the deceptively simple question, how many ribbon seals are there in the sea?  The world’s oceans are huge, dark and impossible to constantly scan; an actual census of seals is practically impossible at the current time.  So how did NOAA estimate that ribbon seal populations were at a reasonable level?  The agency relied primarily on the work of Jay Ver Hoef and associates, who flew 300 meters over the Eastern Bering Sea over one week’s time, taking automated photographs of the area and consulting photographs when they matched with infrared heat signatures.  The resulting sample was analyzed using spatial hierarchical modeling to arrive at a rough estimate.

Conn, P. B., Ver Hoef, J. M., McClintock, B. T., Moreland, E. E., London, J. M., Cameron, M. F., … & Boveng, P. L. (2014). Estimating multispecies abundance using automated detection systems: ice‐associated seals in the Bering Sea. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5(12), 1280-1293.

Ver Hoef, J. M., Cameron, M. F., Boveng, P. L., London, J. M., & Moreland, E. E. (2014). A spatial hierarchical model for abundance of three ice-associated seal species in the eastern Bering Sea. Statistical Methodology, 17, 46-66.

Both of these papers are available for reading without any fees if you search for them via Google Scholar.  I suggest at least a quick scan.