Daily Archive: 06/24/2013

Jun 24 2013

Journalism is not a profession or a trade.

It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.

What Are The Gobshites Saying These Days?

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

Jun 24, 2013 at 9:50AM

Every actual journalist at NBC should spit every time David Gregory walks by. Hell, the janitorial staff should spit as he walks by, but that would simply be making more work for themselves, so I guess they won’t. As someone who’s now straddle the Big Ditch between the old media and the new, I will grant you that the definition of who’s a journalist has become rather fluid over the past few decades. Whatever you may think of Glenn Greenwald — and, Jesus, he makes it tough sometimes — what he’s doing with Edward Snowden is journalism by any definition anyone ever proposed for it. (He’s arranging logistical help for an important source? Newspapers used to do that with some regularity. It’s even an important plot point in both the greatest newspaper movie ever made (His Girl Friday) and in the second-greatest newspaper movie ever made (Deadline USA with Humphrey Bogart.)) Meanwhile, let us recall that a former chief of staff for Dick Cheney testified under oath in the Scooter Libby trial that MTP was that White House’s preferred launching pad for arrant bullshit. Let us recall the marvelous quote the late, sainted Tim Russert gave to Bill Moyers in which he said he’d wished “somebody had called him” to warn him that we were being lied into a war. Under the Dancin’ Master, the show has devolved further into being a playground for the courtier press. Maybe we do need a new definition of what journalism is. But, whatever new definition emerges, it shouldn’t be developed by the host of Meet The Fking Press, which is no more “journalism” than Duck Dynasty is a nature program.

This was a career defining moment. It’s rare that someone reveals himself quite as clearly as the Dancin’ Master does in that little by-play. He will “debate” who is or is not a journalist, and the rest of us can wait under the balcony and wait for scraps. The clearly batty Peggy Noonan is a journalist, but Glenn Greenwald may not be.  Journalism has sickened itself with respectability, debilitated itself with manners, crippled itself with politesse, and David Gregory may well be Patient Zero for all of this. As my Irish grandmother used to say, mother of god, who the hell is he when he’s at home?

Jun 24 2013

Some Lies About Warrantless Surveillance

Fisa court oversight: a look inside a secret and empty process

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Tuesday 18 June 2013 19.36 EDT

Since we began began publishing stories about the NSA’s massive domestic spying apparatus, various NSA defenders – beginning with President Obama – have sought to assure the public that this is all done under robust judicial oversight. “When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he proclaimed on June 7 when responding to our story about the bulk collection of telephone records, adding that the program is “fully overseen” by “the Fisa court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them”.



The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, told CNN that the NSA “is not listening to Americans’ phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law.” Talking points issued by the House GOP in defense of the NSA claimed that surveillance law only “allows the Government to acquire foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S.-persons (foreign, non-Americans) located outside the United States.”

The NSA’s media defenders have similarly stressed that the NSA’s eavesdropping and internet snooping requires warrants when it involves Americans. The Washington Post’s Charles Lane told his readers: “the government needs a court-issued warrant, based on probable cause, to listen in on phone calls.” The Post’s David Ignatius told Post readers that NSA internet surveillance “is overseen by judges who sit on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” and is “lawful and controlled”. Tom Friedman told New York Times readers that before NSA analysts can invade the content of calls and emails, they “have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under guidelines set by Congress.”

This has become the most common theme for those defending NSA surveillance. But these claim are highly misleading, and in some cases outright false.



Under the FAA, which was just renewed last December for another five years, no warrants are needed for the NSA to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens. Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic. But even under the law, no individualized warrant is needed to listen in on the calls or read the emails of Americans when they communicate with a foreign national whom the NSA has targeted for surveillance.

As a result, under the FAA, the NSA frequently eavesdrops on Americans’ calls and reads their emails without any individualized warrants – exactly that which NSA defenders, including Obama, are trying to make Americans believe does not take place.



Contrary to the claims by NSA defenders that the surveillance being conducted is legal, the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted any efforts to obtain judicial rulings on whether this law is consistent with the Fourth Amendment or otherwise legal. Every time a lawsuit is brought contesting the legality of intercepting Americans’ communications without warrants, the Obama DOJ raises claims of secrecy, standing and immunity to prevent any such determination from being made.



The supposed safeguard under the FAA is that the NSA annually submits a document setting forth its general procedures for how it decides on whom it can eavesdrop without a warrant. The Fisa court then approves those general procedures. And then the NSA is empowered to issue “directives” to telephone and internet companies to obtain the communications for whomever the NSA decides – with no external (i.e. outside the executive branch) oversight – complies with the guidelines it submitted to the court.

In his interview with the president last night, Charlie Rose asked Obama about the oversight he claims exists: “Should this be transparent in some way?” Obama’s answer: “It is transparent. That’s why we set up the Fisa Court.” But as Politico’s Josh Gerstein noted about that exchange: Obama was “referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – which carries out its work almost entirely in secret.” Indeed, that court’s orders are among the most closely held secrets in the US government. That Obama, when asked about transparency, has to cite a court that operates in complete secrecy demonstrates how little actual transparency there is to any this.



When it is time for the NSA to obtain Fisa court approval, the agency does not tell the court whose calls and emails it intends to intercept. It instead merely provides the general guidelines which it claims are used by its analysts to determine which individuals they can target, and the Fisa court judge then issues a simple order approving those guidelines. The court endorses a one-paragraph form order stating that the NSA’s process “‘contains all the required elements’ and that the revised NSA, FBI and CIA minimization procedures submitted with the amendment ‘are consistent with the requirements of [50 U.S.C. §1881a(e)] and with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States'”. As but one typical example, the Guardian has obtained an August 19, 2010, Fisa court approval from Judge John Bates which does nothing more than recite the statutory language in approving the NSA’s guidelines.

Once the NSA has this court approval, it can then target anyone chosen by their analysts, and can even order telecoms and internet companies to turn over to them the emails, chats and calls of those they target. The Fisa court plays no role whatsoever in reviewing whether the procedures it approved are actually complied with when the NSA starts eavesdropping on calls and reading people’s emails.

The guidelines submitted by the NSA to the Fisa court demonstrate how much discretion the agency has in choosing who will be targeted. Those guidelines also make clear that, contrary to the repeated assurances from government officials and media figures, the communications of American citizens are – without any individualized warrant – included in what is surveilled.



The only oversight for monitoring whether there is abuse comes from the executive branch itself: from the DOJ and Director of National Intelligence, which conduct “periodic reviews … to evaluate the implementation of the procedure.” At a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday afternoon, deputy attorney general James Cole testified that every 30 days, the Fisa court is merely given an “aggregate number” of database searches on US domestic phone records.

Obama and other NSA defenders have repeatedly claimed that “nobody” is listening to Americans’ telephone calls without first obtaining warrants. This is simply false. There is no doubt that some of the communications intercepted by the NSA under this warrantless scheme set forth in FAA’s section 702 include those of US citizens. Indeed, as part of the Fisa court approval process, the NSA submits a separate document, also signed by Holder, which describes how communications of US persons are collected and what is done with them.



The decisions about who has their emails and telephone calls intercepted by the NSA is made by the NSA itself, not by the Fisa court, except where the NSA itself concludes the person is a US citizen and/or the communication is exclusively domestic. But even in such cases, the NSA often ends up intercepting those communications of Americans without individualized warrants, and all of this is left to the discretion of the NSA analysts with no real judicial oversight.

The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant

Glenn Greenwald and James Ball, The Guardian

Thursday 20 June 2013 18.59 EDT

Top secret documents submitted to the court that oversees surveillance by US intelligence agencies show the judges have signed off on broad orders which allow the NSA to make use of information “inadvertently” collected from domestic US communications without a warrant.



The documents show that even under authorities governing the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, US communications can still be collected, retained and used.



The Fisa court’s oversight role has been referenced many times by Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials as they have sought to reassure the public about surveillance, but the procedures approved by the court have never before been publicly disclosed.



(T)he Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:

• Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;

• Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;

• Preserve “foreign intelligence information” contained within attorney-client communications;

• Access the content of communications gathered from “U.S. based machine[s]” or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.

The broad scope of the court orders, and the nature of the procedures set out in the documents, appear to clash with assurances from President Obama and senior intelligence officials that the NSA could not access Americans’ call or email information without warrants.

The documents also show that discretion as to who is actually targeted under the NSA’s foreign surveillance powers lies directly with its own analysts, without recourse to courts or superiors – though a percentage of targeting decisions are reviewed by internal audit teams on a regular basis.



One such warrant seen by the Guardian shows that they do not contain detailed legal rulings or explanation. Instead, the one-paragraph order, signed by a Fisa court judge in 2010, declares that the procedures submitted by the attorney general on behalf of the NSA are consistent with US law and the fourth amendment.

Those procedures state that the “NSA determines whether a person is a non-United States person reasonably believed to be outside the United States in light of the totality of the circumstances based on the information available with respect to that person, including information concerning the communications facility or facilities used by that person”.

It includes information that the NSA analyst uses to make this determination – including IP addresses, statements made by the potential target, and other information in the NSA databases, which can include public information and data collected by other agencies.

Where the NSA has no specific information on a person’s location, analysts are free to presume they are overseas, the document continues.

“In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person,” it states “a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person.”

If it later appears that a target is in fact located in the US, analysts are permitted to look at the content of messages, or listen to phone calls, to establish if this is indeed the case.

Referring to steps taken to prevent intentional collection of telephone content of those inside the US, the document states: “NSA analysts may analyze content for indications that a foreign target has entered or intends to enter the United States. Such content analysis will be conducted according to analytic and intelligence requirements and priorities.”



The NSA is empowered to retain data for up to five years and the policy states “communications which may be retained include electronic communications acquired because of limitations on the NSA’s ability to filter communications”.

Even if upon examination a communication is found to be domestic – entirely within the US – the NSA can appeal to its director to keep what it has found if it contains “significant foreign intelligence information”, “evidence of a crime”, “technical data base information” (such as encrypted communications), or “information pertaining to a threat of serious harm to life or property”.

All boldface is my emphasis, italics and links are from the original.

Jun 24 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Glenn Greenwald: On the Espionage Act charges against Edward Snowden

Who is actually bringing ‘injury to America’: those who are secretly building a massive surveillance system or those who inform citizens that it’s being done?

Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect “noble” and “patriotic” whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a “standstill”, while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration’s threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

Paul Krugman: Et Tu, Bernanke?

For the most part, Ben Bernanke and his colleagues at the Federal Reserve have been good guys in these troubled economic times. They have tried to boost the economy even as most of Washington seemingly either forgot about the jobless, or decided that the best way to cure unemployment was to intensify the suffering of the unemployed. You can argue – and I would – that the Fed’s activism, while welcome, isn’t enough, and that it should be doing even more. But at least it didn’t lose sight of what’s really important.

Until now.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.: Leonard Pitts Jr.: We’re surrendering our civil liberties

It will not be with guns.

If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away precious American freedoms.

It will involve a trade of sorts, an inducement to give up the reality of freedom for the illusion of security. Indeed, the bargain has already been struck.

Juan Cole: So When Will Dick Cheney Be Charged With Espionage?

The US government charged Edward Snowden with theft of government property and espionage on Friday. [..]

Charging leakers with espionage is outrageous, but it is par for the course with the Obama administration.

The same theory under which Edward Snowden is guilty of espionage could easily be applied to former vice president Dick Cheney. [..]

What Cheney did in ordering his aides Scooter Libby and Karl Rove to release the information about Plame’s identity was no different from Snowden’s decision to contact the press.

And yet, Cheney mysteriously has not been charged with Espionage. Hmmm….

New York Times Editorial Board: More Overreach by the N.Y.P.D.

The revelation in 2011 that the New York City Police Department was spying on law-abiding Muslims rightly attracted scrutiny from the Justice Department, which announced last year that it intended to review the program. The disclosure also raised troubling questions about whether the city was violating a federal court order that bars it from retaining information gleaned from investigations of political activity unless there are reasonable indications of potential wrongdoing. The purpose of that order was to discourage unjustified surveillance and prevent police from peering into people’s private affairs and building dossiers on them without legitimate cause.  [..]

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has responded to such complaints by insisting that the department’s surveillance program is perfectly legal and implying that critics are undermining public safety. This is the same response he offers when challenged on the stop-and-frisk program. This arrogant approach tries to discredit legitimate criticism while justifying further overreach by a department with a history of abusive behavior. It is up to the courts to determine whether the Muslim surveillance program and the stop-and-frisk program are constitutional. What already seems clear is that these surveillance policies create suspicion and mistrust, which does not help the Police Department or anyone else.

Robert M. Morgenthau: Let Shooting Victims Sue

In 2004, relatives of eight people shot in the Washington-area sniper attacks received $2.5 million dollars from the maker and seller of the rifle used in those shootings. That was a matter of simple justice. But the gun lobby had no use for that kind of justice. They went to work and, the next year, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, severely reducing the legal liability of gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers for reckless acts that send guns to the black market. The National Rifle Association called it “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.”

This kind of legislation encourages arms dealers to turn a blind eye to the lethal consequences of what they peddle, and rewards their breathtaking irresponsibility. [..]

The Second Amendment right to bear arms is an important right. But the contours of that right must not extend to those who look away as their guns enter the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Congress should immediately repeal the 2005 gun immunity law, and let free-market incentives encourage responsible behavior by the gun industry.

Jun 24 2013

On This Day In History June 24

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.

Click on images to enlarge.

June 24 is the 175th day of the year (176th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 190 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment.

Roth v. United States, along with its companion case, Alberts v. California, was a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court which redefined the Constitutional test for determining what constitutes obscene material unprotected by the First Amendment.

Prior history

Under the common law rule that prevailed before Roth, articulated most famously in the 1868 English case Hicklin v. Regina, any material that tended to “deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences” was deemed “obscene” and could be banned on that basis. Thus, works by Balzac, Flaubert, James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence were banned based on isolated passages and the effect they might have on children.

Samuel Roth, who ran a literary business in New York City, was convicted under a federal statute criminalizing the sending of “obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy” materials through the mail for advertising and selling a publication called American Aphrodite (“A Quarterly for the Fancy-Free”) containing literary erotica and nude photography. David Alberts, who ran a mail-order business from Los Angeles, was convicted under a California statute for publishing pictures of “nude and scantily-clad women.” The Court granted a writ of certiorari and affirmed both convictions.

The case

Roth came down as a 6-3 decision, with the opinion of the Court authored by William J. Brennan, Jr.. The Court repudiated the Hicklin test and defined obscenity more strictly, as material whose “dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest” to the “average person, applying contemporary community standards.” Only material meeting this test could be banned as “obscene.” However, Brennan reaffirmed that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment and thus upheld the convictions of Roth and Alberts for publishing and sending obscene material over the mail.

Congress could ban material, “utterly without redeeming social importance,” or in other words, “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”

With the Court unable to agree as to what constituted obscenity, the Justices were put in the position of having to personally review almost every obscenity prosecution in the United States, with the Justices gathering for weekly screenings of “obscene” motion pictures (Black and Douglas pointedly refused to participate, believing all the material protected). Meanwhile, pornography and sexually oriented publications proliferated as a result of the Warren Court’s holdings, the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960s flowered, and pressure increasingly came to the Court to allow leeway for state and local governments to crack down on obscenity. During his ill-fated bid to become Chief Justice, Justice Abe Fortas was attacked vigorously in Congress by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond for siding with the Warren Court majority in liberalizing protection for pornography. In his 1968 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon campaigned against the Warren Court, pledging to appoint “strict constructionists” to the Supreme Court.

The demise of Roth

In Miller v. California (1973), a five-person majority agreed for the first time since Roth as to a test for determining constitutionally unprotected obscenity, superseding the Roth test. By the time Miller was considered in 1973, Brennan had abandoned the Roth test and argued that all obscenity was constitutionally protected, unless distributed to minors or unwilling third-parties.

Jun 24 2013

Sunday Train: Steel Interstates and Using the Defense Budget to Improve National Security

This is the year that the funding authorization for the Federal Rail Authority expires, and the Obama administration is answering with a bold new plan to invest in this critical piece of any long term sustainable transport system, as described earlier this month at the Transport Polititic:

Total funding for rail activity, both for operating funds and capital projects, would increase from about $1.8 billion in 2013 to more than $6.5 billion in fiscal year 2014. Over the course of five years, about $40 billion would be devoted to rail improvement across the country, a massive expansion paid for with funds “saved” from ending military operations overseas. This would be headlined by a $5 billion “jump-start” stimulus for rail, part of a $50 billion infrastructure package the Administration is hoping Congress will pay attention to.