The Ledes

Friday, September 4, 2015.

New York Times: "The American economy added 173,000 jobs in August, a bit less than expected, making it less likely that the Federal Reserve will feel comfortable enough to make its long-awaited move to raise interest rates when policy makers meet this month."

The Wires

The Ledes

Thursday, September 3, 2015.

AFP: "Embattled Guatemalan President Otto Perez announced his resignation Thursday, after a warrant was issued for his arrest for allegedly masterminding a huge fraud scheme."

New York Times: "Five Chinese Navy ships were sailing in international waters of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska on Wednesday, in what Pentagon officials said was the first such foray by Beijing. The move came on the last day of President Obama’s three-day visit to Alaska.... The White House said that the intent of the Chinese operation was unclear, but that the Pentagon had not detected any threatening activities."

Public Service Announcement

New York Times [Aug. 20]: "As many as 60,000 American women each year are told they have a very early stage of breast cancer — Stage 0, as it is commonly known — a possible precursor to what could be a deadly tumor. And almost every one of the women has either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and often a double mastectomy, removing a healthy breast as well. Yet it now appears that treatment may make no difference in their outcomes."

Washington Post: "A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by more than 100 million people every year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday."

AP: "Federal health advisers on Tuesday[, June 9,] recommended approval for a highly anticipated cholesterol drug from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, but with the caveat that more data is needed about its long-term ability to reduce heart attacks. The expert panel recommended by a 13-3 vote that the Food and Drug Administration approve the injectable drug, called Praluent."

White House Live Video
September 4

The White House has no scheduled live feeds for today.

Over there on the "liberal" teevee channel MSNBC, they are expanding "Morning Joe," starring the Clinton impeachment guy, to a four-hour gig.

Making Iced Tea out of Lemons. Not originally intended for publication. A friend of mine had some electrical work done on her house. She told me yesterday she was awaiting the inspector. Today in an e-mail titled "Inspector A Hole," she wrote, "Well, the inspector came early this morning.... He saw the gate closed and left. He did not ring the doorbell."

I wrote back, "I think when he arrived -- even if he didn't tell you what time he was coming -- you were supposed to be standing at the gate smiling, wearing an attractive outfit & holding out a tray of iced tea & cookies for him. A neat 'Welcome, Inspector A. Hole' sign would have been nice, too."

 A few minutes later, she responded with this:

You can't let the bastards get you down. Which helps explain why I so often post links to the most ridiculous inanities & hypocrisies coming out of the mouths of pols & pundits.

New York Times: "Bloomberg News laid off as many as 90 journalists on Tuesday[, Sept. 1,] in its newsrooms in New York, Washington and across the world, part of a plan to refocus the organization’s coverage on business, finance, economics, technology and politics. The rationale for the dismissals was outlined in a lengthy memo to the staff from Bloomberg’s new editor in chief, John Micklethwait."

Maureen Dowd: Trump has got the best of Jeb! & Hillary: "Trump’s 'gusto,' as he likes to call it, has thrown into sharper relief the grinding-it-out, impatient entitlement, the overthinking and overcorrecting of Jeb and Hillary. Both campaign like they are owed, not because of their great national achievements, but because of their byzantine family dynamics."

The Oliver Brief. We do note, however, that the so-called 'Insular Cases,' which established a less-than-complete application of the Constitution in some U.S. territories, has been the subject of extensive judicial, academic, and popular criticism. See, e.g., Juan Torruella, The Insular Cases: The Establishment of a Regime of Political Apartheid, 77 Rev. Jur. U.P.R. 1 (2008); Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: U.S. Territories, Youtube (Mar. 8, 2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CesHr99ezWE. -- Footnote, Paeste v. Guam, Ninth Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon

Jordan Golson of Wired: "Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage. The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars — there’s no flying beams of light, no 'pew! pew!' sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down. People keep flying their drones where they shouldn’t.... Luckily, there haven’t been any really bad incidents — that is, no one has been killed by a civilian quadcopter or plane, yet."

"The cream cheese is too damn much." Scott Lemieux and I agree.

Sunday Morning Come-Down. Politico: "Al Sharpton is leaving MSNBC's weekday dayside lineup, and moving to Sunday mornings. Sharpton's last weekday 'PoliticsNation' will be Sept. 4. He moves to Sundays a month later on Oct. 4, according to a memo sent to MSNBC staff by the channel's president Phil Griffin Wednesday evening."

Washington Post: "Stephen Hawking believes he’s solved a huge mystery about black holes."

Washington Post: "The case for canonizing [Sister Blandina Segale,] the 19th century Italian-born nun, whose run-in with Old West outlaw Billy the Kid is the stuff of legend, was presented at a ceremonial 'first inquiry' in Albuquerque on Tuesday. If approved, her name will be sent to the Vatican, where it will head down the long (and somewhat secretive) path toward sainthood."

New York Times: Can't sidewalk scaffolding be attractive? Yes, it can.

Terror in Toledo! ABC News: "A man caught on video the moment a public art installation in Toledo, Ohio -- a giant, 250-pound red ball -- decided to run away and start rolling down streets lined with parked cars. Part of a Toledo Museum of Art exhibit, the RedBall Project had been wedged between Roulet Jewelers and Ice Restaurant in downtown Toledo when a thunderstorm and strong winds this past Wednesday evening knocked the ball loose and caused it to start rolling away, according to Kelly Garrow, the museum's director of communications."

... AP: "America’s two foremost Democratic families, the Obamas and the Clintons, mingled on Saturday[,August 15,] as politics mixed with summer repose on swanky Martha’s Vineyard."

Washington Post: "Offering such perks as 'free' bags and 'free' airline tickets, [some credit] cards are big on promises, but they often fall short on the delivery. And although these financial instruments are legal, experts say they are not always worthwhile."

Kori Schulman of the White House: "Today (August 14), the White House joined Spotify — and our inaugural playlist was hand-picked by none other than President Obama. When asked to pick a few of his favorite songs for the summer, the President got serious. He grabbed a pen and paper and drafted up not one, but two separate summer playlists: One for the daytime, and one for the evening." ...

... CW: If you're subscribed to Spotify, you can play the President's list from the linked story (at "Today".)

Washington Post: "Google, one of the best-known brands on the planet, on Monday[, August 10,] radically restructured itself under the corporate name Alphabet, an almost unprecedented shift that reflects the company’s far-reaching ambitions and the vast Web it helped evolve. The move represents Google’s biggest push yet to ... turn the company into a multifaceted General Electric for the digital age."

Bureaucracies Move in Mysterious Ways. New York Post: "The city [of New York] moved to fire an employee for missing about 18 months of work, even though he had the best excuse of all time — he was dead. Bureaucrats at the Human Resources Administration filed charges against Medicaid-eligibility specialist Geoffrey Toliver accusing him of going AWOL — even though his death by cancer was reported in an online obituary.... 'It is my understanding that . . . his employer was fully aware that he was not able to come back to work,' Toliver’s brother Anthony told The Post. 'It is my understanding that my brother’s family spoke directly to his supervisor during his long hospitalization and informed them of his death.'” ...

... CW: Doesn't surprise me at all. When I lived in Manhattan, my mother sent me a gift which came directly from the catalog company from which she had bought it. My father had died a few years earlier, but my mother was still getting these catalogs in his name. So my father's name, not hers, appeared on the package as the giftor. He had never lived in New York City. He was not the addressee on the package. The package didn't come from New York City. And my father was dead. But never mind all that. A few months after I received the gift, I got a letter at my New York home addressed to my father. It was a notification from the city ordering my father to show up for jury duty. Or else.

 

Josh Feldman of Mediaite: "For years and years, plenty of websites (Mediaite included) have written about the many times Jon Stewart has 'destroyed,' 'annihilated,' or 'eviscerated' anything from terrorism to race relations to Fox News. Well..., on his penultimate night, Stewart discovered that he didn’t actually do any of that":

Exit Laughing. John Koblin of the New York Times: "Since [Jon] Stewart started hosting 'The Daily Show' 16 years ago, the country’s trust in both the news media and the government has plummeted. Mr. Stewart’s brand of fake news thrived in that vacuum, and turned him into one of the nation’s most bracing cultural, political and media critics. With his over-the-top presentation of the news — his arms swinging wildly, his eyes bulging with outrage, followed by a shake of the head and a knowing smile — Mr. Stewart attracted a generation of viewers ready to embrace an outlier whose exaggerations, in their view, carried more truth than conventional newscasts." ...

...Stewart hasn't done any interviews prior to ending his run on the "Daily Show," but he did sit down with "Daily Show" producers for an "exit interview" on Episode 20 of the "Daily Show Podcast without Jon Stewart." You can listen to it here.

The Word Salad King. If Donald Trump's good friend & possible running mate Sarah Palin is the Word Salad Queen, it stands to reason that the Donald would be the king. Slate challenges you to diagram this "sentence." To help you out, Slate has transcribed the words in the order delivered. Not that the order delivered matters much:

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Constant Comments

Anyone with a cheap computer can become a columnist or a pundit. -- Dennis Ryerson, Editor, Indianapolis Star

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-- Constant Weader

Follow CONSTANTWEADER on Twitter... for breaking news. I update several times a day & tweet only the big deals.

Monday
Jun102013

The Commentariat -- June 11, 2013

My postings will be light & sporadic for a time & I'll do most of them in the wee hours. I doubt I will be doing any news ledes. Please stick with me. I'll be back. -- Constant Weader

** Okay, I'll Freak Out Over This. Steven Mufson of the Washington Post: "Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday. The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned 'would be a disaster for all countries.'" ...

... When is an an unelected dictator of a repressive Communist regime more responsible and progressive than Congressional Republicans? Steve Benen has one answer.

Michael Shear & Pam Belluck of the New York Times: "The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after contraceptive pill for all women and girls, a move fraught with political repercussions for President Obama. The government's decision means that any woman or girl will soon be able to walk into a drugstore and buy the pill, Plan B One-Step, without a prescription." CW: Thank you, Judge Edward Korman. (Korman is a 70-year-old Reagan appointee who "angrily accused the administration of blocking the drug because of politics, not science, and ordered [HHS Secretary Kathleen] Sebelius to reverse her decision.")

Michael Schmidt, et al., of the New York Times: "As Justice Department officials began the process Monday to charge Edward J. Snowden, a 29-year-old former C.I.A. computer technician, with disclosing classified information, he checked out of a hotel in Hong Kong where he had been holed up for several weeks, according to two American officials. It was not clear where he went." ...

... How'd He Do That? Peter Finn, et al., of the Washington Post: "Counterintelligence investigators are scrutinizing how a 29-year-old contractor who said he leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents was able to gain access to what should be highly compartmentalized information.... Among the questions is how a contract employee at a distant NSA satellite office [in Hawaii] was able to obtain a copy of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a highly classified document that would presumably be sealed from most employees and of little use to someone in his position." ...

... Cloak & Rubik's Cube. Charlie Savage & Mark Mazzetti on the course of conversations among Snowden, Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Barton Gellman of the Washington Post & documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. ...

... Irin Carmon of Salon interviews Poitras. ...

... Oh, and here's a surprise: Glenn Greenwald is pissed off at Barton Gellman. Everybody pisses off Greenwald -- and he's quick to say so. ...

... Eli Lake of the Daily Beast: "Even before last week's revelations by The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency (NSA) was collecting call records from telecommunications companies and had the ability to mine user data from major U.S. Internet companies, the NSA was already on the trail of the leaker, according to two former U.S. intelligence officers with close ties to the agency.... The people who began chasing Snowden work for the Associate Directorate for Security and Counterintelligence, according to former U.S. intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The directorate, sometimes known as 'the Q Group,' is continuing to track Snowden.... Snowden's disappearance in May was immediately noticed by the directorate, and when The Guardian published the first court order and then documents associated with a program called PRISM, Snowden immediately became the leading suspect in the leak...."

... Spies R Us. Robert O'Harrow, et al., of the Washington Post: "The unprecedented leak of top-secret documents by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden raises far-reaching questions about the government's rush to outsource intelligence work to contractors since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.... In the rush to fill jobs, the government has relied on faulty procedures to vet intelligence workers, documents and interviews show. At the same time, intelligence agencies have not hired enough in-house government workers to manage and oversee the contractors, contracting specialists said. On Monday, lawmakers said they will examine Snowden's hiring and the growing use of private companies for intelligence work." ...

... Alan Travis of the Guardian: "Leading Europeans, from Angela Merkel down to information chiefs across the continent, are lining up to grill American counterparts on the Prism surveillance programmes, amid mounting fury that the private information of EU nationals will have been caught up in the data dragnet. With Merkel set to bring up the issue with Barack Obama next week, and the European commission vice-president, Viviane Reding, eager to grill US officials at a meeting in Dublin on Friday, the issue looks set to dominate a week of summitry. Reding, who is responsible for data protection in Europe, is to seek clarification on whether the access to personal data in the Prism programme is limited to individual cases, is based on concrete suspicion or if wider sets of data are being accessed." ...

... ** Dana Milbank: "As the administration and some in Congress vent their anger about leaks to The Post and to Britain's Guardian newspaper, officials have only themselves to blame. It is precisely their effort to hide such a vast and consequential program from the American public that caused this pressure valve to burst. Instead of allowing a democratic debate about the programs in broad terms that would not have compromised national security, their attempts to keep the public in the dark have created a backlash in which the risks to national security can't be controlled." Read the whole column. ...

... Scott Shane & Jonathan Weisman & of the New York Times on why we're not going to be having that "healthy debate" about secret data collection. ...

... Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: Edward Snowden is "a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.... What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications.... The Post decided to publish only four of the forty-one slides that Snowden provided. Its exercise of judgment suggests the absence of Snowden'." ...

... Robert Chesney & Benjamin Wittes in The New Republic: most of the revelations in the Post & Guardian stories were unsurprising -- they were what a person who read the law would suspect was going on. But what is surprising about the Snowden leaks is "that the government thinks it already has this authority under Section 215 ... to create giant datasets of telephony metadata that might later be queried..., and still more so that the FISA Court agrees and that members of Congress know this as well." ...

... Michael Kelley in Business Insider: "... the NSA is continuing to intercept and analyze an estimated 1.7 billion U.S. electronic communications each day." CW: this is not Kelley's point, but the volume of communications he cites should convince Americans that no NSA employee or contractor is sitting back in an NSA cubbyhole poring over their private correspondence. ...

... Steve Benen analyzes the public's views. CW: I would add that it may take a while for people to decide what to make of the disclosures. (It's taking me a while.) What the public thinks today could change in a month or two, as more (a) clarity & (b) demagoguery enter the mainstream consciousness.

Erika Eichelberger in Mother Jones: "Rejecting health care money for poor mentally ill people is an extremely costly way for states to stick it to the Obama administration." But 17 states are doing just that, even though many of them are already have the among the worst mental-healthcare systems in the country. ...

     ... BTW, I wonder if Elena Kagan & Steven Breyer are sleeping well, knowing that they helped enable 17 states to make poor people even more unequal than others. And, thanks, John Roberts (not to mention the other Fourth Dancing Tenthers), for the brilliant interpretation of the Constitution. Maybe you seven dwarfs should all go stand out in front of that monstrous Supreme Court building, look up at the entablature where inscribed in stone for some odd reason is the phrase "equal justice under law," scratch your chins, and ask yourselves just what the fuck that means.

The Grand Old White Party is still the GOWP. You knew that, of course, but Alex Roarty of the National Journal puts some detail to it: "... an early examination of the party's 2014 efforts shows that Republicans have yet to begin writing new pages for their old playbook. Efforts to expand the map by fielding candidates in diverse states have so far been stymied.... The GOP's midterm strategy will rely heavily on whites, especially those without a college education, and particularly in rural states where its presidential candidates win easily."

John Boehner, Immigration Reformer? ...

     ... Jonathan Chait says yes. ...

     ... Ed Kilgore is skeptical.

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: Hillary Clinton debuted on Twitter Monday. Almost 1,000 followers a minute signed up.

This is for contributor P. D. Pepe, the Persistent Poet:

Sunday
Jun092013

The Commentariat -- June 10, 2013

** E. J. Dionne: "... too many politicians are making decisions on the basis of a grand, [libertarian] utopian theory that they never can -- or will -- put into practice. They then use this theory to avoid a candid conversation about the messy choices governance requires. And this is why we have gridlock." Read the whole column.

... Glenn Greenwald, et al., of the Guardian: "The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell. The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. 'I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,' he said." The Washington Post story, by Aaron Blake & Greg Miller, is here. ...

... Snowdon -- Seeking Asylum from a Repressive Regime. Timothy Lee of the Washington Post: "... our courts defend constitutional rights less zealously today than they did in [Daniel] Ellsberg's day. Snowden wasn't crazy to question whether he'd be treated fairly by the American justice system. ...

... Gillian Wong of the AP: "China, which has long chafed at U.S. accusations that it carries out extensive surveillance on American government and commercial operations, may now have to make a decision on how to deal with the problem presented by the 29-year-old Edward Snowden, who has come out as the source of the leaks." ...

... Keith Bradsher of the New York Times: "In choosing Hong Kong as an initial place to take refuge from the United States government, the National Security Agency contractor who has acknowledged leaking documents has selected a jurisdiction where it may be possible to delay extradition but not avoid it, legal and law enforcement experts here said." ...

... Barton Gellman & Jerry Markon of the Washington Post profile Snowdon. ...

... Daniel Ellsberg, in the Guardian: "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material -- and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an 'executive coup' against the US constitution." ...

... Charles Pierce: "We are not the country we say we are. What we are arguing about is the distance between the two." ...

... Binyamin Appelbaum & Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "Edward J. Snowden's employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States.... The government has sharply increased spending on high-tech intelligence gathering since 2001, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to rely on private contractors like Booz Allen for much of the resulting work.... 'The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,' said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. 'This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.'" CW: Sorry, libertarians, those horrible people reading your e-mails & snooping through your phone bills are not conniving bureaucrats & tools of the Obama administration; they're capitalists! ...

... ** Tim Shorrock in Salon, on the same subject: "With about 70 percent of our national intelligence budgets being spent on the private sector -- a discovery I made in 2007 and first reported in Salon -- contractors have become essential to the spying and surveillance operations of the NSA." ...

... NSA Director James Clapper's "Facts on the Collection of Intelligence...." (pdf) ...

... Congress Likes Spies. Pete Kasperowicz of the Hill: "... while many are outraged at the existence of the NSA program itself, [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor indicated that Congress will focus on whether Snowden broke any laws when he revealed its existence. Cantor said programs like the one run by NSA are needed to help thwart ongoing terrorist threats against the United States."

Congress Likes Big Banks. M. J. Lee of Politico: "When [Senators] Sherrod Brown and David Vitter introduced a bill in April to crack down on big banks, it was met with great fanfare and excitement from reform advocates eager to see Washington take another whack at Wall Street. But more than a month later, the bill has attracted little support in Congress, even from senators sympathetic to its overarching goal."

Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) became the fifth Republican to endorse the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Senate began considering on Sunday, telling CBS' Face The Nation that the measure is a 'thoughtful bipartisan solution to a tough problem.' She predicted that Republicans won't filibuster the legislation, dealing a blow to Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who are seeking to undermine the effort." ...

... Pretend-President Paul Is Also King of Congress. Megan Wilson of the Hill: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Sunday that his Senate colleagues would have to go through him in order to win support from the House to successfully pass comprehensive immigration reform. 'What they have in the Senate has zero chance of passing in the House,' Paul said on Fox News Sunday.... The libertarian senator has said he wants to bolster border security measures, a rallying cry for many Republicans. 'I am the conduit between conservatives in the House who don't want a lot of these things and more moderate people in the Senate who do want these things,' he said. 'They're going to have to come to me and they're going to have to work with me to make the bill stronger if they want me to vote for it.'" CW: I wonder if he thinks this is how to make friends in Washington. ...

... Seung Min Kim & Jake Sherman of Politico: "Speaker John Boehner ... is beginning to sketch out a road map to try to pass some version of an overhaul in his chamber -- a welcome sign for proponents of immigration reform.... The speaker wants House committees -- Judiciary has primary jurisdiction -- to wrap up their work on a version of immigration legislation before the July 4 recess. And he would like immigration reform to see a House vote before Congress breaks in August." CW: sure hope Boehner is coordinating everything with Li'l Randy.

Those pansy librul New York Times Editors don't think terrorists should enjoy Second Amendment freeeedoms: "In his final months in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg was resolute in reintroducing a favorite measure of his: a gun safety proposal that would close a gaping loophole in the law that allows people on the government's terrorist watch list to buy guns and explosives from licensed dealers.... Such is the power of the gun lobby, which, among other contrived arguments, sees the measure as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.... Mr. Lautenberg's ... Senate colleagues ... could honor him ... by letting his bill,S. 34, see the light of floor debate. A companion measure in the House, H.R. 720, has been offered repeatedly by Representative Peter King of New York and similarly bottled up. It is tragic that lawmakers show more fear of the gun lobby than of suspected terrorists...."

Libertarian Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic: "Measured in lives lost, during an interval that includes the biggest terrorist attack in American history, guns posed a threat to American lives that was more than 100 times greater than the threat of terrorism. Over the same interval, drunk driving threatened our safety 50 times more than terrorism.... It is not rational to give up massive amounts of privacy and liberty to stay marginally safer from a threat that, however scary, endangers the average American far less than his or her daily commute."

Meghashyam Mali of the Hill: "The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Sunday said the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party groups was 'solved,' and that he was ready to 'move on.' ... Cummings said that interviews with IRS employees had shown that no one at the White House had a role in pushing for the higher scrutiny on Tea Party groups, citing the testimony of an IRS employee who described himself as a 'conservative Republican.' ... Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called [Cummings'] statements urging an end to the probe 'extreme and reckless.'" CW: Issa is making an ass of himself. Cummings is an extraordinarily cautious, moderate speaker -- one of the wise old men of Washington:

Obama 2.0. James Mann, in a Washington Post op-ed, looks into Samantha Power 's writings to glean what kind of U.N. ambassador she will be.

Obama 2.0. Matt Spetalnick of Reuters: "President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate longtime adviser Jason Furman to be his new chief White House economist, an administration official said. Furman, who will replace economist Alan Krueger as chair of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and has advised Obama since his 2008 election campaign. Furman has been instrumental in formulating administration policies on taxes, the response to the U.S. recession, the formulation of a sweeping healthcare overhaul and efforts to avoid a 'fiscal cliff' at the end of last year." ...

... Paul Krugman: "I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like the sudden intellectual collapse of austerity economics as a policy doctrine. But while insiders no longer seem determined to worry about the wrong things, that's not enough; they also need to start worrying about the right things -- namely, the plight of the jobless and the immense continuing waste from a depressed economy. And that's not happening. Instead, policy makers both here and in Europe seem gripped by a combination of complacency and fatalism.... So here's my message to policy makers: Where we are is not O.K. Stop shrugging, and do your jobs." ...

... Abenomics. Joe Stiglitz, in the New York Times: "In the five years since the financial crisis crippled the American economy, a favorite warning of those who have urged forceful government action, myself included, has been that the United States risked entering a long period of 'Japanese-style malaise.' Japan's two decades of anemic growth, which followed a crash in 1989, have been the quintessential cautionary tale about how not to respond to a financial crisis.  Now, though, Japan is leading the way. The recently elected prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has embarked on a crash course of monetary easing, public works spending and promotion of entrepreneurship and foreign investment.... The new policies look to be a major boon for Japan. And what happens in Japan, which is the world's third-largest economy and was once seen as America's fiercest economic rival, will have a big impact in the United States and around the world."

Bill Keller: "I've come to think there may be a better way to accomplish diversity [on college campuses]: namely, by shifting attention from race to class."

News Ledes

Guardian: "Ratings agency Standard & Poor's has upgraded its outlook for the US economy [to] stable from negative, two years after its controversial downgrade caused a political and economic firestorm."

CBS News/AP: "Moved by the Assad regime's rapid advance, the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the beleaguered Syrian rebels and will weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. air power to enforce a no-fly zone over the civil war-wracked nation, officials told The Associated Press Sunday."

NBC News: "A fifth victim of the horrific shooting spree in Santa Monica, Calif., was confirmed dead Sunday as law enforcement officials revealed the name of the suspected gunman. John Zawahri, 23, was identified by police as the heavily armed man who rampaged through a mile-long stretch of the coastal city Friday, dressed head to toe in black and carrying an AR-15 assault rifle as well as a duffel bag stuffed with as much as 1,800 rounds of ammunition.... Law enforcement officials also confirmed that the two of the gunman's victims -- a pair found dead in a burning house fewer than 20 blocks away from the campus where the shooting spree came to a bloody climax -- were Zawahri's 55-year-old father, Samir, and 24-year-old brother, Christopher. Zawahri ... allegedly murdered the two men before setting his father's house ablaze just before 12 p.m. and fleeing the scene on foot...."

AP: "Seven heavily armed Taliban fighters launched a pre-dawn attack near Afghanistan's main airport Monday, apparently targeting NATO's airport headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and at least one large bomb. Two Afghan civilians were wounded and all the attackers were killed after an hours-long battle."

AP: "The two Koreas will hold their highest-level talks in years Wednesday in an effort to restore scrapped joint economic projects and ease animosity marked by recent threats of nuclear war."

Reuters: "The [U.S.] government has recovered 400 pages from the long-lost diary of Alfred Rosenberg, a confidant of Adolf Hitler who played a central role in the extermination of millions of Jews and others during World War Two. A preliminary U.S. government assessment reviewed by Reuters asserts the diary could offer new insight into meetings Rosenberg had with Hitler and other top Nazi leaders, including Heinrich Himmler and Herman Goering. It also includes details about the German occupation of the Soviet Union, including plans for mass killings of Jews and other Eastern Europeans."

Sunday
Jun092013

Why I'm Not Freaking Out

Privacy is power. The people with who hold the most power over us are those with whom we are most intimate. Love concedes power. Of course, institutions and corporations also have power over us: the bank, the landlord, the employer. The government. We concede personal power to these institutions only because we must. And we generally concede as little as possible. What the brouhaha over the government surveillance programs is all about is power.

 

The body of the U.S. Constitution is a fiat, a decree. It declares what powers the government has over the governed. That is, it declares what powers the governed – “We the people” – will concede to the federal government. The Bill of Rights, an afterthought, is what made the Constitution a contract, for the Amendments lay out what powers the government concedes to the governed. Although the Bill of Rights does not confer citizens' “right to privacy,” several Amendments do speak to specific privacy rights. The First and the Fourth are particularly germane in the current controversy: the First of course conferring upon the press a right to collect and publish information, and the Fourth:

 

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 

Absolutists will argue that these privacy rights are inviolable. When President Obama said Friday, “You can shout Big Brother or program run amok, but if you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.... You can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” critics jumped all over him. While I do not agree we have struck the right balance, Obama – the Constitutional scholar – is correct about this: those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are fungible. The Constitution is a document in tension with itself; a citizen cannot have “100 percent privacy,” for instance, when s/he may be required under the Sixteenth Amendment to pay income tax, and as part of that process, be subject to a government audit of her private financial transactions. Similarly, a citizen usually cannot receive government benefits – Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, FDIC insurance, etc., – without revealing personal financial information. If the Fourth Amendment were absolute, many government functions – at every level of government – would come to a halt. States could not issue drivers' licenses (and police could not demand to see them at checkpoints), you could not obtain a passport (and Customs officials could not ask for your “papers, please” upon your return from another country), the municipality could not make you recycle some of your trash, yard waste and household hazmats. None of their damned business! I'm certain you can think of a number of instances in which you felt some government bureaucrat was being intrusive or forcing you to do something you did not think you should have to do – and not just the usual stuff, like making you remove your shoes at the airport.


Privacy is power. All of these intrusions – however vexing or routine – are incursions into your personal power. An authority figure, who may be rude and/or stupid, is requiring you to do something that you would refuse to do
if you had the power to refuse. While it's true that we sometimes can decide not to cede power, that decision usually comes with a cost: a person might decide that patdowns are so humiliating, she refuses to subject herself to them; ergo, she won't fly, even if flying is otherwise the most convenient way for her to travel.

 

Privacy is power. It is worth remembering that we are a country formed, in part, by many people who were especially independent. “Rugged individualism” is an American value, personified by those younger sons, ne'er-do-wells and outcasts who populated the West, creating new identities and individual success stories dependent upon their ability to accommodate a lonesome way of living. For these individualists, privacy brought them power they had not enjoyed in the society from which they came; it freed them from past misdeeds or from a diminished “station in life” or from societal expectations they were not disposed to meet. Not every Western town was Deadwood, and not every cowboy a loner, but that cry for freeeedom comes out of the American experience. (This is not to suggest that Yankees can't be individualists, too, of course.) We are a country that revers our misfits – even if we usually wait until they have passed to lionize them.

 

It may be coincidental, but it is certainly fitting, that the person most responsible for publishing these revelations about the federal government's intrusion into personal privacy is a gay man – a member of a “group” that society has expended the most energy in sapping of personal liberty and personal power. Greenwald is “getting back at” an institution that has not been supportive of him and in fact continues to limit his life choices: he does not live in the United States because the U.S. does not recognize his partner, a Brazilian national, for immigration purposes. “'Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly “free,” liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition,' says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans' freedoms, Fred Bernstein wrote in Out.

 

Government intrusion is personal for Greenwald, as it is for all of us, to one extent or another. But I came to terms with this a long time ago, not so much because the government was depriving me of power but because other institutions did so to an even great extent. Years ago I realized how much strangers – or relative strangers – knew about me: the postman knew whom I corresponded with and what my interests were; the grocery clerk knew nearly everything I put in my mouth, the bank knew 95 percent of what I spent my money on and 100 percent of where I got that money, etc. And, oh yeah, the phone company knew whom I called and who called me. No matter how private a person I might like to be, these people – and others, like my doctor – could create a profile of me that was probably more accurate than one I would create myself. If some of these clerks, etc., were inattentive, there was a good chance a surveillance camera had caught me on tape and could reconstruct some of this stuff. (I have watched a few crime shows wherein part of the evidence against the murderer was a tape of him buying, you know, heavy-duty trashbags and a hatchet at the hardware store. Murderers aren't just the ultimate sociopaths; they are stupid sociopaths.)

 

Nowadays, of course, it isn't just phone companies and Internet providers who know my correspondents and my shopping habits. The companies where I shop, whether I buy products or not, know what I might be interested in buying (although it is beyond me why Amazon thinks I still might buy a shoddy egg topper when they know I already purchased the Cadillac [or Mercedes – I think it's German] of egg toppers. Last night I learned something awful – via the Internet – about a neighbor. My discovery was inadvertent but shocking to me. Although the information is public (and legal to disseminate), it is unlikely I would have learned it otherwise. I would rather not have known. I am not by nature a nosy neighbor.

 

In times past, most communities were full of nosy neighbors. The nosy neighbors are still around of course, but their power is much diminished, partly because of the changed patterns of modern society. Only a few generations ago, people tended to stay put. They remained in the communities where they grew up, and those communities “knew” them: it was difficult for a person to hide from his mistakes when all the neighbors knew not only his mistakes but his father's and grandfather's, too. Society – gossip – imposed the same kind of restrictions on privacy that the Internet and the NSA and others institutions do now. The community punished “misbehavior,” if not directly, then indirectly by ostracizing those who did not conform. In colonial New England, judges would enter the houses of parishioners unannounced on Sundays to make sure they were keeping the Sabbath. Those nosy neighbors, whether or not they were commissioned to interfere, formed a powerful and effective check on personal freedom and privacy. Now people are much more mobile, and that “community” has been digitized and expanded. The nature of Big Brother has changed, but he's always been around.

 

Today James Clapper has replaced the Church Lady. And frankly, Clapper is much less intrusive.

 

David Simon, who created the HBO series “The Wire” and was a crime reporter at the Baltimore Sun, is among the commentators who, like me, is not overly agitated by news from the Guardian. Simon wrote on his blog Friday,

 

Is it just me or does the entire news media — as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle — not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? …

 

I know it’s big and scary that the government wants a data base of all phone calls. And it’s scary that they’re paying attention to the internet. And it’s scary that your cell phones have GPS installed. And it’s scary, too, that the little box that lets you go through the short toll lane on I-95 lets someone, somewhere know that you are on the move. Privacy is in decline around the world, largely because technology and big data have matured to the point where it is easy to create a net that monitors many daily interactions. Sometimes the data is valuable for commerce – witness those facebook ads for Italian shoes that my wife must endure – and sometimes for law enforcement and national security. But be honest, most of us are grudging participants in this dynamic. We want the cell phones. We like the internet. We don’t want to sit in the slow lane at the Harbor Tunnel toll plaza.

 

Read the whole post. Simon describes a law enforcement operation which took place in those halcyon days before the Patriot Act. After Baltimore police scooped up call records from numerous city pay phones, they wiretapped some of those phones – all with a good judge's seal of approval. Yep, you might have slipped out to a pay phone to call your mistress or your bookie so the call wouldn't be recorded on your home phone, only to have some Balto cops listening in on your phone sexies or your bet on the fourth race at Pimlico. And it was all legal. Plus, the cops caught their marks.

 

There is no doubt that existing technology enables the government not just to keep an eye on each of us but also to abuse us with its watching. Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic describes an example of such abuse here. (It's worth noting that the behavior Reeve describes was not a government-sanctioned program; it was NSA employees behaving badly. People are people, and that will happen – which is little consolation to those whose privacy they violated.) Will some rogue elephant(s) abuse technology in the future? Well, sure. Richard Nixon and his gang of subversives were not anomalous. Neither were J. Edgar Hoover and the boys. People in power have every incentive to preserve that power, and some will abuse that power and will gladly violate the laws and the Constitution.

 

Greenwald and other journalists are right to be concerned. The free press is likely to be damaged, at least in the short run, by the NSA's sophisticated and far-reaching data surveillance techniques. Greenwald himself is already a target. Although he has written that he communicates through encrypted means, you can bet the NSA will be doing its best to crack the codes. And the agency is likely to succeed. The government's ability to monitor reporters' comings and goings is a great challenge to a free press, and therefore a challenge to democracy. Some reporters – like James Rosen of Fox “News” – will probably get caught in the government's web, either because of their carelessness (as in Rosen's case), or because surveillance technology was one step ahead of the reporters. But good journalists are smart, and they have very effective soapboxes, so there is every reason to think that truth will out. The purpose of the press is to probe, question and criticize the government. The Constitution itself – that document that enables the government – also privileges the press, the government's most persistent and effective critics.

 

As President Obama said Friday, “I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy. I think it's a sign of maturity because probably five years ago, six years ago we might not have been having this debate.” I welcome the debate, too, and I'm glad Greenwald, et al., put it on the front burner again. But it is important to remember among all the hoo-hah, that a great many of the noisemakers, including Glenn Greenwald himself, are advocates or partisans whose stridency has a purpose other than to find that balance of which the President spoke. Whether it is George Will who this morning rushed to conflate the IRS and the NRA, or the ACLU calling the surveillance programs “beyond Orwellian,” the metaphorical hairpulling is not intended to be useful or informative. Both Will and the ACLU are professional contrarians, and their poses are the sources of their power. This debate, as much as any debate, is about power. Most of us have scant power. I am unwilling to cede part of what little power I have to scaremongers who would have me trembling in fear or bathed in paranoia, ever on the lookout for my personal FBI handler. This is a discussion about who we are as a nation. It is high time we stopped being a freaked-out nation.

 

Saturday
Jun082013

The Commentariat -- June 9, 2013

Glenn Greenwald & Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian: "The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications. The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA datamining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks." ...

... James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence: "Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe. In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context -- including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government -- to these effective tools." ...

... Robert O'Harrow, et al., of the Washington Post: "The statement from Clapper is both an affirmation of PRISM and the government's strongest defense of it since its disclosure by The Post and the Guardian on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Guardian also disclosed secret orders enabling the National Security Agency to obtain data from Verizon about millions of phone calls made from the United States." ...

... Rosie Gray of BuzzFeed: "The main author of a string of stories revealing large-scale top secret spying on American citizens by the National Security Agency says that there are parts of the story that have been withheld for legal reasons and that the goal is not to execute an unedited document dump. 'We're not engaged in a mindless, indiscriminate document dump, and our source didn't want us to be,' said Glenn Greenwald ... in an email to BuzzFeed Saturday. 'We're engaged in the standard journalistic assessment of whether the public value to publication outweighs any harms.'" ...

... Timothy Gardner & Mark Hosenball of Reuters: "A U.S. intelligence agency requested a criminal probe on Saturday into the leak of highly classified information about secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, a spokesman for the intelligence chief's office said. Confirmation that the NSA filed a 'crimes report' came a few hours after the nation's spy chief, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper launched an aggressive defense of a secret government data collection program." ...

... Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Senior Obama administration officials, including the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and national intelligence, have held 13 classified hearings and briefings for members of Congress since 2009 to explain the broad authority they say they have to sweep up electronic records for national security purposes, a senior administration official said Saturday. The administration, by disclosing the briefings to lawmakers, sought to push back on claims by Democrats and Republicans in Congress that they were either not aware of programs to mine vast amounts of Internet data and business telephone records or were insufficiently briefed on the details. Lawmakers said that what they knew was vague and broad -- and that strict rules of classification prevented them from truly debating the programs or conducting proper oversight." ...

... I Guess He's Not Obambi Any More. Maureen Dowd: "Back in 2007, Obama said he would not want to run an administration that was 'Bush-Cheney lite.' He doesn't have to worry. With prisoners denied due process at Gitmo starving themselves, with the C.I.A. not always aware who it's killing with drones, with an overzealous approach to leaks, and with the government's secret domestic spy business swelling, there's nothing lite about it." ...

... Rob Taylor & Naomi Tajitsu of Reuters: "Unease over a clandestine U.S. data collection program has rippled across the Pacific to two of Washington's major allies, Australia and New Zealand, raising concerns about whether they have cooperated with secret electronic data mining. Both Canberra and Wellington share intelligence with the United States, as well as Britain and Canada. But both Pacific neighbors now face awkward questions about a U.S. digital surveillance program that Washington says is aimed primarily at foreigners."

Jackie Calmes & Steven Myers of the New York Times: "President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China said that they were building 'a new model' of more cooperative relations after 40 years of diplomatic ups and downs, as they wound down a second day of talks on Saturday that included discussion of a nuclear-armed North Korea, cyberespionage, climate change, free trade and human rights. Mr. Xi said he and Mr. Obama 'reached important consensus on these issues' when they spoke to reporters during a break late Friday, after meeting for more than the planned three hours and before a nearly two-hour working dinner." ...

     ... Update. New Lede: "Even as they pledged to build 'a new model' of relations, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China ended two days of informal meetings here on Saturday moving closer on pressuring a nuclear North Korea and addressing climate change, but remaining sharply divided over cyberespionage and other issues that have divided the countries for years." ...

... Steven Mufson of the Washington Post: "The agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday to wind down the production and consumption of a class of chemicals commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners could mark a key step toward eliminating some of the most potent greenhouse gases. The United States and roughly 100 other countries have already pledged to seek substitutes. For the first time, the United States and China will work together to persuade other countries, most notably holdouts such as Brazil and India, to join the effort to slash or eliminate the use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs."

Sometimes members of Congress have good ideas. WCBS reports that Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) will introduce legislation to repeal dishonorable discharges that were ordered because servicemembers were gay. Changing dishonorable discharges to honorable would allow the gay former servicemembers to receive medical & other benefits.

Congressional Race

Kate Zernicke of the New York Times: "Cory Booker, who has built national celebrity from his perch as mayor of this beleaguered city [Newark], brought another of the state's most famous political figures here on Saturday as he officially declared his campaign for United States Senate. At the announcement, former Senator Bill Bradley, who like Mr. Booker is a Democrat who entered politics as an Ivy League-educated former Rhodes scholar, introduced the mayor-turned-candidate as 'the right person for the right office at the right time,' one who sees politics as 'a noble enterprise, not a dirty business.'"


Remember those GOP "autopsy reports"? Now Republicans are beginning to act on the recommendations. First step: ratchet up their outreach to evangelicals! Pete Hamby of CNN reports. CW: the New GOP is just like the Old GOP, except worse.

News Ledes

AP: "A heavy equipment operator who is accused of being high on marijuana when a downtown building collapsed onto a thrift store, killing six people, is in custody after surrendering to face charges in the deaths, police said. Sean Benschop, who has a lengthy police record, surrendered Saturday and faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe. A warrant had been issued for his arrest and police had been searching for him. He is awaiting arraignment." The Philadelphia Inquirer story is here. CW: so the contractor who hired the guy & the building's owner who hired the contractor have no culpability?

Boston Globe: "Argeo Paul Cellucci, a Hudson, [Massachusetts,] native who rose from a small-town selectman to become governor of Massachusetts and ambassador to Canada, died at his home in Hudson [Saturday] afternoon after a five-year battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, according to two close family friends. He was 65. Mr. Cellucci, who served as governor from 1997 to 2001, died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative and incurable neurological condition."

Reuters: " Jury selection begins on Monday in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 and then famously walked free for 44 days, triggering nationwide protests and calls for his arrest."

AP: "Government delegates from North and South Korea began preparatory talks Sunday at a 'truce village' on their heavily armed border aimed at setting ground rules for a higher-level discussion on easing animosity and restoring stalled rapprochement projects."