Daily Archive: 05/14/2013

May 14 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: It Condemns I.R.S. Audits

The Internal Revenue Service was absolutely correct to look into the abuse of the tax code by political organizations masquerading as “social welfare” groups over the last three years. The agency’s mistake – and it was a serious one – was focusing on groups with “Tea Party” in their name or those criticizing how the country is run.

The I.R.S. should have used a neutral test to scrutinize every group seeking a tax exemption for “social welfare” activity – Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Any group claiming tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(4) of the internal revenue code can collect unlimited and undisclosed contributions, and many took in tens of millions. They are not supposed to spend the majority of their money on political activities, but the I.R.S. has rarely stopped the big ones from polluting the political system with unaccountable cash.

Robert Parry; Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide

More than any recent U.S. president, Ronald Reagan has been lavished with honors, including his name attached to Washington’s National Airport. But the conviction of Reagan’s old ally, ex-Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, for genocide means “Ronnie” must face history’s judgment as an accessory to the crime

The conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide against Mayan villagers in the 1980s has a special meaning for Americans who idolize Ronald Reagan. It means that their hero was an accessory to one of the most grievous crimes that can be committed against humanity.

The courage of the Guatemalan people and the integrity of their legal system to exact some accountability on a still-influential political figure also put U.S. democracy to shame. For decades now, Americans have tolerated human rights crimes by U.S. presidents who face little or no accountability. Usually, the history isn’t even compiled honestly.

John Nichols: Congressmen Seek Constitutional Guarantee of the Right to Vote

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. Scalia was right. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us, “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.”

Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison want to do something about that.

The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.

John Aravosis: When 3 Gunmen Shoot 19 at a Mother’s Day Parade, It’s Not “Terrorism”

No terrorism please, we’re gunmen.  A bizarre story out of New Orleans, where two or three gunmen opened fire on a Mother’s Day parade, injuring 19 people, including two children.

Sure sounds awfully familiar, almost like a redux of the Boston Marathon bombing.  But you’d be wrong.

You see, when two guys use bombs to hurt people en masse at a marathon, it’s instantly “terrorism.”  But when two to three people use guns to hurt people en masse at a parade, it’s simply “the relentless drumbeat of street violence.”

What’s the difference?

A homemade bomb versus a gun, by the looks of it.

Pauk Buchheit: Atlas Shrugged Off Taxes

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.

Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn’t have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.

Nick Turse: Nuclear Terror in the Middle East

Lethality Beyond the Pale

In those first minutes, they’ll be stunned. Eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare, nerve endings numbed. They’ll just stand there. Soon, you’ll notice that they are holding their arms out at a 45-degree angle. Your eyes will be drawn to their hands and you’ll think you mind is playing tricks. But it won’t be. Their fingers will start to resemble stalactites, seeming to melt toward the ground. And it won’t be long until the screaming begins. Shrieking. Moaning. Tens of thousands of victims at once. They’ll be standing amid a sea of shattered concrete and glass, a wasteland punctuated by the shells of buildings, orphaned walls, stairways leading nowhere.

This could be Tehran, or what’s left of it, just after an Israeli nuclear strike.

May 14 2013

On This Day In History May 14

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.

May 14 is the 134th day of the year (135th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 231 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1796, Edward Jenner, an English country doctor from Gloucestershire, administers the world’s first vaccination as a preventive treatment for smallpox, a disease that had killed millions of people over the centuries.

Edward Anthony Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Jenner is widely credited as the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, and is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Immunology”; his works have been said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.

Smallpox

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu witnessed the Ottoman Empire practice of variolation during her 1716-1718 sojourn in Istanbul, where her husband was the British ambassador. She brought the idea back to Britain. Voltaire, a few years later, recorded that 60% of people caught smallpox, with 20% of the population dying of it. In the years following 1770 there were at least six people in England and Germany (Sevel, Jensen, Jesty 1774, Rendell, Plett 1791) who had successfully tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunization for smallpox in humans. For example, Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty had successfully vaccinated and presumably induced immunity in his wife and two children with cowpox during a smallpox epidemic in 1774, but it was not until Jenner’s work some twenty years later that the procedure became widely understood. Indeed, Jenner may have been aware of Jesty’s procedures and success.

Jenner’s Initial Theory:

The initial source of infection was a disease of horses, called “the grease”, and that this was transferred to cows by farm workers, transformed, and then manifested as cowpox.

Noting the common observation that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, Jenner theorized that the pus in the blisters which milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected the milkmaids from smallpox. He may have had the advantage of hearing stories of Benjamin Jesty and others who deliberately arranged cowpox infection of their families, and then noticed a reduced smallpox risk in those families.

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his hypothesis by inoculating James Phipps, a young boy of 8 years (the son of Jenner’s gardener), with material from the cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom, whose hide hangs on the wall of the library at St George’s medical school (now in Tooting). Blossom’s hide commemorates one of the school’s most renowned alumni. Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner’s first paper on vaccination.

Jenner inoculated Phipps with cowpox pus in both arms on the same day. The inoculation was accomplished by scraping the pus from Nelmes’ blisters onto a piece of wood then transferring this to Phipps’ arms. This produced a fever and some uneasiness but no great illness. Later, he injected Phipps with variolous material, which would have been the routine attempt to produce immunity at that time. No disease had followed. Jenner reported that later the boy was again challenged with variolous material and again showed no sign of infection.

Known:

Smallpox is more dangerous than variolation and cowpox less dangerous than variolation.

Hypothesis:

Infection with cowpox gives immunity to smallpox.

Test:

If variolation after infection with cowpox fails to produce a smallpox infection, immunity to smallpox has been achieved.

Consequence:

Immunity to smallpox can be induced much more safely than by variolation.

Ronald Hopkins states: “Jenner’s unique contribution was not that he inoculated a few persons with cowpox, but that he then proved they were immune to smallpox. Moreover, he demonstrated that the protective cowpox could be effectively inoculated from person to person, not just directly from cattle. In addition he tested his theory on a series of 23 subjects. This aspect of his research method increased the validity of his evidence.

He continued his research and reported it to the Royal Society, who did not publish the initial report. After improvement and further work, he published a report of twenty-three cases. Some of his conclusions were correct, and some erroneous – modern microbiological and microscopic methods would make this easier to repeat. The medical establishment, as cautious then as now, considered his findings for some time before accepting them. Eventually vaccination was accepted, and in 1840 the British government banned variolation – the use of smallpox itself – and provided vaccination – using cowpox – free of charge. (See Vaccination acts). The success of his discovery soon began to spread around Europe and as an example was used en masse in the Spanish Balmis Expedition a three year mission to the Americas led by Dr Francisco Javier de Balmis with the aim of giving thousands the smallpox vaccine. The expedtition was successful and Jenner wrote, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”

Jenner’s continuing work on vaccination prevented his continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament and was granted £10,000 for his work on vaccination. In 1806 he was granted another £20,000 for his continuing work.

Legacy

In 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease. This was the result of coordinated public health efforts by many people, but vaccination was an essential component. And although it was declared eradicated, some samples still remain in laboratories in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, and State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia.

The importance of his work does not stop there. His vaccine also laid the groundwork for modern-day discoveries in immunology, and the field he began may someday lead to cures for arthritis, AIDS, and many other diseases of the time.

May 14 2013

John N. Mitchell

John Newton Mitchell (September 15, 1913 – November 9, 1988) was the Attorney General of the United States from 1969 to 1972 under President Richard Nixon. Prior to that, he was a noted New York municipal bond lawyer, director of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, and one of Nixon’s closest personal friends; after his tenure as Attorney General, he served as director of Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign. Due to his involvement in the Watergate affair, he was sentenced to prison in 1977, serving 19 months.



During his successful 1968 campaign, Nixon turned over the details of the day-to-day operations to Mitchell. Allegedly he also played a central role in covert attempts to sabotage the 1968 Paris Peace Accords which could have ended the Vietnam War. After he became president in January 1969, Nixon appointed Mitchell attorney general while making an unprecedented direct appeal to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that the usual background investigation not be conducted. Mitchell remained in office from 1969 until he resigned in 1972 to manage President Nixon’s successful reelection campaign



Mitchell believed that the government’s need for “law and order” justified restrictions on civil liberties. He advocated the use of wiretaps in national security cases without obtaining a court order (United States v. U.S. District Court) and the right of police to employ the preventive detention of criminal suspects. He brought conspiracy charges against critics of the Vietnam War, likening them to brown shirts of the Nazi era.

He expressed a reluctance to involve the Justice Department in some civil rights issues. “The Department of Justice is a law enforcement agency,” he told reporters. “It is not the place to carry on a program aimed at curing the ills of society.” However, he also warned activists, “watch what we do, not what we say.” According to biographer James Rosen, he “did more than any executive branch official of the twentieth century.” Near the beginning of his administration, Nixon ordered Mitchell to go slow on desegregation of schools in the South as part of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. After being instructed by the Federal courts that segregation was unconstitutional and that the Executive Branch was supposed to enforce the rulings of the Courts, he somewhat reluctantly complied and threatened the withholding of Federal funds for schools that were still segregated as well as threatening legal action against them.



In 1972, when asked to comment about a forthcoming article that reported that he controlled a political slush fund used for gathering intelligence on the Democrats, he famously uttered an implied threat to reporter Carl Bernstein: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”



On February 21, 1975, Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and sentenced to two and a half to eight years in prison for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up, which he dubbed the “White House horrors”. The sentence was later reduced to one year to four years by United States district court Judge John J. Sirica. Mitchell served only 19 months of his sentence, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, a minimum-security prison, before being released on parole for medical reasons. Tape recordings made by President Nixon and the testimony of others involved confirmed that Mitchell had participated in meetings to plan the break-in of the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.[citation needed] In addition, he had met, on at least three occasions, with the president in an effort to cover up White House involvement after the burglars were discovered and arrested.

May 14 2013

Obama DOJ: What First Amendment

I’m proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day.  So everybody from the American press corps, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and an independent press as essential pillars of our democracy.

~President Obama

Remarks by President Obama and President Chinchilla of Costa Rica in a Joint Press Conference, in National Center for Art and Culture San Jose, Costa Rica, 10 days ago.

That was so ten days ago. The news broke that Obama Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of phone records of the Associated Press reporters and editors.

The government would not say why it sought the records. Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP’s source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.

The president and CEO of AP, Gary Pruitt sent a letter protesting the “massive and unprecedented intrusion” (pdf):

Last Friday afternoon, AP General Counsel Laura Malone received a letter from the office of United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. advising that, at some unidentified time earlier this year, the Department obtained telephone toll records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists. The records that were secretly obtained cover a full two-month period in early 2012 and, at least as described in Mr. Machen’s letter, include all such records for, among other phone lines, an AP general phone number in New York City as well as AP bureaus in New York City, Washington, D.C., Hartford, Connecticut, and at the House of Representatives. This action was taken without advance notice to AP or to any of the affected journalists, and even after the fact no notice has been sent to individual journalists whose home phones and cell phone records were seized by the Department.

There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.(my emphasis)

h/t to Marcy Wheeler who points out the two months, April to May of 2012, that were of interest covered the period that, now CIA Director, John Brennan had rolled out his drone propaganda campaign:

That would mean they’d get the sources for this Kimberly Dozier story published May 21 [..]

Within 10 days of the time Dozier published that story, John Brennan had rolled out an enormous propaganda campaign – based on descriptions of the drone targeting process that Brennan’s power grab had replaced, not the new drone targeting process – that suckered almost everyone commenting on drones that drone targeting retained its previous, more deliberative, targeting process, the one Brennan had just changed.

And that propaganda campaign, in turn, hid another apparent detail: that UndieBomb 2.0, a Saudi sting had actually occurred earlier in April, and that UndieBomb 2.0 preceded and perhaps justified the signature strikes done at the behest of the Yemenis (or more likely the Saudis).

Marcy listed the timeline of the AP stories that were focused on Brennan and the undie bomber. However, it was after the Dozier story that  Brennan began his propaganda campaign to cover up how illegal and uncontrollable the drone program is.

Comparing this to Nixon and Watergate, Charles P. Pierce goes full throttle on why Eric Holder should be fired:

This isn’t hard. This is what made Egil (Bud) Krogh famous. This is what got people sent to jail in the mid-1970’s. This is the Plumbers, all over again, except slightly more formal this time, and laundered, disgracefully, even more directly through the Department Of Justice. And of course, this is not nearly good enough. And even if you point out, as you should, that the AP is hyping this story a little — The government “secretly” obtained the records? Doesn’t that imply that nobody knew the records had been seized? Wasn’t there a subpoena? The phone companies knew. — the ignoble clumsiness of this more than obviates those particular quibbles.

The White House on Monday said that other than press reports it had no knowledge of Justice Department attempts to seek AP phone records. “We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department,” spokesman Jay Carney said.

That is all my arse. At the least, this was a counter-terrorism operation. (Why else would Brennan have been questioned already?). Which puts the whole business inside the White House. And you’d have to be a toddler or a fool to believe that Eric Holder could go off on his own and take as politically volatile a step as this. But, let us take the White House at its word. Eric Holder did this by himself. He should be gone. This moment. Not only is this constitutionally abhorrent, it is politically moronic. Nobody likes the press, I will grant you that, but the administration is soft if it thinks the public distrusts the press that much. And to have this genuinely chilling revelation emerge simultaneously with the Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI! mummery and the IRS dumbassery is pretty much a full broadside below the water line of this administration’s credibility. Good god, this is going to be one long-ass summer.

Pres. Obama needs to do damage control starting with throwing Holder to the wolves. I suspect this will be the next congressional investigation in an effort to not just derail Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign but to build a case for impeachment of Obama for abuse of his executive powers. A long hot summer, indeed.