Daily Archive: 06/28/2013

Jun 28 2013

Even a Former Stasi Agent Says It’s a Bad Idea

Obama Spy Net photo ObamaSpyNet_zpsa63a3f0b.jpg You know you’ve screwed up when an agent from one of the most secretive and notorious spy agencies tells you so. A former lieutenant colonel in the now defunct East German secret police, the Stasi, Wolfgang Schmidt was “appalled” saying that ” gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious”

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

Now the Ecuadoran government has broken its trade pact with the United States to prevent it from being used as “blackmail” over the request for asylum from Edward Snowden.

The waiving of preferential trade rights followed threats from members of the US congress to drop the ATPA in July, when it is due for renewal, unless Ecuador toed the line on Snowden.

“Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be,” said Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.

“Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits.”

Meanwhile the US Army has blocked access to parts of The Guardian website to preserve ‘network hygiene’

A spokesman said the military was filtering out reports and content relating to government surveillance programs to preserve “network hygiene” and prevent any classified material appearing on unclassified parts of its computer systems.[..]

The Pentagon insisted the Department of Defense was not seeking to block the whole website, merely taking steps to restrict access to certain content.

But a spokesman for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) in Arizona confirmed that this was a widespread policy, likely to be affecting hundreds of defence facilities.

Besides being an illogical in its defense of leaked information that is now public knowledge, the dogs forbid, these young GI’s should know what it is they’re defending.

At least the Senate isn’t slacking on asking for an explanation. In bipartisan letter, 26 Senators are seeking answers from intelligence chief James Clapper over scale of and justification for NSA surveillance

The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.

In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian. [..]

They ask Clapper to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the program and provide examples of its effectiveness in providing unique intelligence, if such examples exist.

The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata. [..]

In addition to raising concerns about the law’s scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.

At the National Rifle Association heads will be exploding. As Marcy Wheeler noted at emptywheel, one of the questions the Senators asked is a “loaded gun”:

It can be used to collect information on credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information, and a range of other sensitive subjects. And the bulk collection authority could potentially be used to supersede bans on maintaining gun owner databases, or laws protecting the privacy of medical records, financial records, and records of book and movie purchases. [Marcy’s emphasis]

At Hullabaloo, David Atkins points out a few problems with the arguments defending the government. He makes two very valid points that should be embarrassing for certain defenders of President Obama and the NSA spying:

In all the manufactured outrage against Snowden for leaking and Greenwald for doing his job as a journalist, there have been two main strains of thought. The first is that whatever the government does in the name of “national security” should be accepted without question, that if one is sworn to secrecy one should never reveal secrets under any circumstance, and that journalistic freedom of speech itself should be called into question if it interferes in any way with whatever government officials say they’re doing in the name of “national security.”

That is a fascist argument that has no place in civil American society, and that should embarrass anyone who uses it.

The second argument is about equal application of rule of law, and it carries a little more moral weight. That argument centers around balance of powers and the notion that it should not be up to random individuals to determine what secrets should remain secrets based on their own moral compass. It’s based around notions of universal rule of law, and is not a fascist one but an institutionalist one. It’s the argument that animates much of the anti-Snowden left.

But for anyone to argue that point with credibility, one must also oppose the rampant leaks coming from inside the government apparatus as well.[..]

If someone denounces Snowden and Greenwald but claims to be to the left of Peter King, they must also denounce the government’s selective leaks and demand prosecution of those involved, or lose all credibility and claims to intellectual consistency. To selectively defend or extol lawbreaking behavior depending on who is in office and what issue is being defended, is the worst sort of political hackery and hypocrisy.

All In host Chris Hayes points to the unequal and uneven response to leaked information that advances the Pentagon’s agenda and leaked information that doesn’t.

On that note this:

The Criminal NSA

by Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman, The New York Times

THE twin revelations that telecom carriers have been secretly giving the National Security Agency information about Americans’ phone calls, and that the N.S.A. has been capturing e-mail and other private communications from Internet companies as part of a secret program called Prism, have not enraged most Americans. Lulled, perhaps, by the Obama administration’s claims that these “modest encroachments on privacy” were approved by Congress and by federal judges, public opinion quickly migrated from shock to “meh.”

It didn’t help that Congressional watchdogs – with a few exceptions, like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky – have accepted the White House’s claims of legality. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, have called the surveillance legal. So have liberal-leaning commentators like Hendrik Hertzberg and David Ignatius.

This view is wrong – and not only, or even mainly, because of the privacy issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics. The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance. Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House – and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught.

America’s Animal Farm: Snowden and the Squealer

by Jonathan Turley, law professor Georgetown University

For many, the recent disclosure of massive warrantless surveillance programs of all citizens by the Obama administration has brought back memories of George Orwell’s 1984. Such comparisons are understandable not only with the anniversary of the book occurring the very week of the disclosures but the Administration’s “doublethink” interpretations of common terms like “transparency” and “privacy.” According to President Obama, the secret surveillance program is not only entirely “transparent” but something of a triumph of privacy.

Yet, another Orwell book seems more apt as the White House and its allies try to contain the scandal: Animal Farm.

Orwell wrote the fanciful account of a farm society of animals at the end of World War II during a period of authoritarian power and government propaganda. The farm government proclaimed equality of all animals but, as the pig Squealer explained, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” As our leaders joined together on television to bloviate about the need to capture and try the “traitor” Snowden, they were affirming a system of laws that seems to apply to the governed exclusively.

Jun 28 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

Mark Weisbrot: Why Ecuador would be an ideal refuge for Edward Snowden

This country has already been dragged through the mud for sheltering Julian Assange, and it is willing to stand up to the US

If Edward Snowden can make it to Ecuador, it will be a good choice for him and the world. The government, including the president, Rafael Correa, and the foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, proved their steadfastness in the face of threats and abuse last year when they granted asylum to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange.

The media took advantage of the fact that most of the world knows very little about Ecuador to misinform their audience that this government “represses the media”. The same efforts are already under way in the Snowden case. Without defending everything that exists in Ecuador, including criminal libel laws and some vague language in a new communications law, anyone who has been to the country knows that the international media has presented a gross caricature of the state of press freedom there. The Ecuadorian private media is more oppositional than that of the US, trashing the government every day.

David Sirota: Obama’s war on journalism

Perhaps most troubling? The president is being aided by a cadre of Benedict Arnolds within the media itself

Out of all the harrowing story lines in journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new film “Dirty Wars,” the one about Abdulelah Haider Shaye best spotlights the U.S. government’s new assault against press freedom.[..]

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the American government’s attitude toward press freedom? That’s where Scahill’s movie comes in. As the film shows, when international pressure moved the Yemeni government to finally consider pardoning Shaye, President Obama personally intervened, using a phone call with Yemen’s leader to halt the journalist’s release.

Had this been an isolated incident, it might be easy to write off. But the president’s move to criminalize the reporting of inconvenient facts is sadly emblematic of his administration’s larger war against journalism. And, mind you, the word “war” is no overstatement.

Subhankar Banerjee: Edward Snowden Isn’t on the Run… We Are

The lessons of the US whistleblower in Anne Applebaum’s Russia

First came the “shock and awe”: the revelations of massive spying by the US and British governments-on the people of the world. Then came the enlightened debate: Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? Then arrived the Hollywood-style entertainment: Where is Edward Snowden going? (The Washing Post even published a map of his potential journey, as if he is some kind of an explorer trying the first ascent of Everest, or the first trek to the North Pole). Then came the finger: first from China, and then Russia. Then arrived the much-anticipated distraction-the “Obama Climate Plan.” And now, the “chill”-Russia the evil.

Mary Elizabeth Williams: The smearing of Rachel Jeantel

So why is the star witness in the George Zimmerman case being treated like a defendant?

Rachel Jeantel is a 19-year-old Florida woman. On Facebook and Twitter, she’s been known to post photos of her nails and talk about drinking. She is also the last person to have spoken with Trayvon Martin before George Zimmerman shot him to death last year, the woman who was on the phone with him when his fateful encounter unfolded. She is known in the justice system as Witness #8 in Zimmerman’s trial. She is, in fact, the prosecution’s key witness. But you’d be forgiven if you’d gotten the impression recently that she was sitting up there to defend herself.

Brittny Saunders: New York’s vote to curb stop-and-frisk is another win for civil rights

City Council made an important choice to add more oversight to NYPD policies, like stop-and-frisk, that are discriminatory

In 2011, the NYPD stopped 685,724 citizens, continuing an upward trend that began with the Bloomberg administration. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

New York City Council passed two bills designed to guarantee safety and respect for all New Yorkers. The measures were championed by Communities United for Police Reform, a broad coalition of city groups, and will strengthen the existing ban on police profiling and establish independent oversight of the city’s police department.

Today is a new day for New York City. The move reflects a growing alarm over NYPD policies and practices that violate the rights of thousands of New Yorkers and undermine police-community relationships – practices such as the discriminatory use of stop-and-frisk that waste valuable public dollars, while producing no measurable impact on public safety

Eugene Robinson: Food for Thought on Paula Deen

Paula Deen needs to give the self-pity a rest. The damage to her carefully built image is self-inflicted-nobody threw a rock-and her desperate search for approval and vindication is just making things worse.

Sorry to be so harsh, but come on. Deen is tough and savvy enough to have built a culinary empire from scratch, in the process becoming the most famous Southern cook in creation. She incarnates the whole “steel magnolia” archetype, with razor-sharp toughness beneath the flutter and the filigree.

“I is what I is,” she said in her weepy exculpation on the “Today” show.

And that’s fine. Go ahead, be what you be. Just don’t try to make everybody else responsible.

Jun 28 2013

On This Day In History June 28

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 28 is the 179th day of the year (180th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 186 days remaining until the end of the year.

In common years it is always in ISO week 26.

This date is the only date each year where both the month and day are different perfect numbers, June 6 being the only date where the month and day are the same perfect number.

On this day in 1919, Keynes predicts economic chaos

At the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, Germany signs the Treaty of Versailles with the Allies, officially ending World War I. The English economist John Maynard Keynes, who had attended the peace conference but then left in protest of the treaty, was one of the most outspoken critics of the punitive agreement. In his The Economic Consequences of the Peace, published in December 1919, Keynes predicted that the stiff war reparations and other harsh terms imposed on Germany by the treaty would lead to the financial collapse of the country, which in turn would have serious economic and political repercussions on Europe and the world.

snip

A decade later, Hitler would exploit this continuing bitterness among Germans to seize control of the German state. In the 1930s, the Treaty of Versailles was significantly revised and altered in Germany’s favor, but this belated amendment could not stop the rise of German militarism and the subsequent outbreak of World War II.

In the late 1930s, John Maynard Keynes gained a reputation as the world’s foremost economist by advocating large-scale government economic planning to keep unemployment low and markets healthy. Today, all major capitalist nations adhere to the key principles of Keynesian economics. He died in 1946.

Governments ignore Keynes at their own peril.

Jun 28 2013

Obama’s Energy Plan: Full Speed Ahead on Fracking

At DeSmogBlog, Steve Horn summed up President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan as “drill, baby, drill” and  “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The president’s plan is a full endorsement of controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas from shale rack using toxic chemicals and horizontal drilling. Steve points out that the president’s claims of providing clean energy and a “moral obligation” to protect the environment for future generations flies in the face of the facts about the dangers of fracking not only to carbon emissions but to clean water.

In a study from Cornell University, researchers confirming that shale gas recovered through high volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will produce even more greenhouse gases than the burning of coal in the next two decades:

“The greenhouse gas footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years… These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured — as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids — and during drill out following the fracturing.”

Another study from Duke University (pdf), shale gas fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale basin of Pennsylvania.

The scientists analyzed 141 drinking water samples from private water wells across northeastern Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale basin.

They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well.  Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling.

“The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium content, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water,” said Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  “In a minority of cases the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by poor well construction.”

The ethane and propane data are “particularly interesting,” he noted, “since there is no biological source of ethane and propane in the region and Marcellus gas is high in both, and higher in concentration than Upper Devonian gases” found in formations overlying the Marcellus shale.

This all comes as the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed a study examining the connection between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA also dropped and censored the groundwater contamination study in Weatherford, TX.

Pres. Obama also endorsed plans to expand fracking internationally:

Obama’s plan also boasts about bringing the U.S. model for fracking abroad through the U.S. State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative, now called the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program.

And to add to the package, the plan also fully endorses “T. Boone Pickens’ “Pickens Plan,” helping create a domestic market for natural gas vehicles, particularly for 18-wheelers.”

Obama’s Climate Plan: A Historic Turning Point or Too Reliant on Oil, Coal, Natural Gas?



Transcript can be read here

President Obama has unveiled a climate plan that imposes the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. The move will not require congressional approval, meaning Obama can bypass expected Republican-led opposition. In his address, Obama also outlined a broad range of measures to protect coastlines and cities from rising sea levels, and vowed to promote the development of renewable energy. In a development that has led both opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to express optimism for their side, Obama said approval of the project will be contingent upon assuring it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Just how successful Obama will be in carrying out his sweeping plan to address climate change – and whether it goes far enough – is a matter of debate. We assess his speech with two guests holding differing views: Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen.

Jun 28 2013

Bidder 70

(h/t Diane Sweet @ Crooks & Liars)

It seems to me his only crime was not being a member of “the club” and not having $1.7 million in his pocket at the end of the auction (which is by law open to anyone).

He was soon able to raise it (after he became notorious, but too late to keep him from being convicted) and this has always struck me as a far more effective form of environmental activism than wasting your money on an ineffective institutional activist organization who’s real goal is cushy K Street offices for their over-paid lobbyists.