Daily Archive: 07/22/2013

Jul 22 2013

At Least Obama Now Honest About Trashing the Fourth Amendment

On Thursday the White House was mum on whether they would seek renewal of the “secret” court order that allows the NSA to collect the phone records and e-mails of Americans without due process.

Officials declined to discuss what action they intend to take about the order at the center of the current surveillance scandal, which formally expires at 5pm Friday. [..]

On Thursday, the administration would not answer a question first posed by the Guardian six days ago about its intentions to continue, modify or discontinue the Verizon bulk-collection order. The White House referred queries to the Justice Department. “We have no announcement at this time,” said Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon. The NSA and office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to questions.

At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, the top lawyer for the director of national intelligence, Robert S Litt, was asked by the chairman, Bob Goodlatte, if the administration thought if a surveillance program “of this magnitude … could be indefinitely kept secret from the American people?”

Litt answered, “well, we tried.”

Since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, the White House decided on Friday to come clean that they would continue to violate the Fourth Amendment with impunity:

In an unprecedented move prompted by the Guardian’s disclosure in June of the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Verizon metadata, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has publicly revealed that the scheme has been extended yet again.

The statement does not mention Verizon by name, nor make clear how long the extension lasts for, but it is likely to span a further three months in line with previous routine orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa). [..]

The decision to go public with the latest Fisa court order is an indication of how the Obama administration has opened up the previously hidden world of mass communications surveillance, however slightly, since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the scheme to the Guardian.

Earlier on Friday, ODNI lawyer, Litt, told the Brookings Institute that the intelligence chiefs would consider NSA data collection changesbut continued defending the unconstitutional program:

“It is, however, not the only way that we could regulate intelligence collection,” Litt said. “We’re currently working to declassify more information about our activities to inform that discussion,” particularly concerning the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

“That could be a significant problem in a fast-moving investigation where speed and agility are critical, such as the plot to bomb the New York City subways in 2009,” Litt said.

But Litt also noted: “All of the metadata we get under this program is information that the telecommunications companies obtain and keep for their own business purposes.”

He acknowledged in the beginning of his speech: “There is an entirely understandable concern that the government may abuse this power.”

In response to a question about the legality of the program, Litt also suggested that congress could pass a law permitting the NSA to collect the records.

“You’d have to make sure that it enables the kind of flexibility and operational agility that we need to conduct the collection,” Litt said. “We don’t think a new statute is necessary. We think we have the authority. But obviously, if Congress thinks a new statute is appropriate for this, Congress can provide that.”

Brilliant, let’s pass another unconstitutional law. Way to go, Barack.

Jul 22 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

Paul Krugman: Detroit, the New Greece

When Detroit declared bankruptcy, or at least tried to – the legal situation has gotten complicated – I know that I wasn’t the only economist to have a sinking feeling about the likely impact on our policy discourse. Was it going to be Greece all over again?

Clearly, some people would like to see that happen. So let’s get this conversation headed in the right direction, before it’s too late.

O.K., what am I talking about? As you may recall, a few years ago Greece plunged into fiscal crisis. This was a bad thing but should have had limited effects on the rest of the world; the Greek economy is, after all, quite small (actually, about one and a half times as big as the economy of metropolitan Detroit). Unfortunately, many politicians and policy makers used the Greek crisis to hijack the debate, changing the subject from job creation to fiscal rectitude.

New York Times Editorial Board: To Make a Safe City Safer

The next mayor’s challenge will be to meet high expectations for protecting the public – and not just against street crime, but terrorism, too – at a time of strapped budgets and with a depleted force of about 34,500 officers, down from a peak of about 40,000 in 2000. Though crime has been falling for a long time, the trend is not automatic or irreversible: data from this month, for example, show rapes, felony assaults and grand larcenies inching up.

The new mayor will also have to curb unconstitutional policing – the widespread harassment of innocent black and Hispanic men and surveillance of law-abiding Muslims – that has inflamed resentment across the city.

This won’t be easy. Still, it’s a chance for a fresh start, for new strategies that keep the peace, respect the Constitution and heal the divide between police and public.

William K. Black: Conservatives and Libertarians Should Support the Return of Glass-Steagall

Glass-Steagall prevented a classic conflict of interest that we know frequently arises in the real world. Commercial banks are subsidized through federal deposit insurance. Most economists support providing deposit insurance to commercial banks for relatively smaller depositors. I am not aware of any economists who support federal “deposit” insurance for the customers of investment banks or the creditors of non-financial businesses.

It violates core principles of conservatism and libertarianism to extend the federal subsidy provided to commercial banks via deposit insurance to allow that subsidy to extend to non-banking operations. Absent Glass-Steagall, banks could purchase anything from an aluminum company to a fast food franchise and (indirectly) fund its acquisitions and operations with federally-subsidized deposits. If you run an independent aluminum company or fast food franchise do you want to have to compete with a federally-subsidized rival?

Robert Kuttner: Breaking the Glass Ceiling at the Federal Reserve

Larry Summers is running hard to succeed Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. This is a terrible idea, on several grounds (which I’ll discuss in a moment.) Even so, I’d place the odds of President Obama giving Summers the job at 50-50 or better, unless progressive Democrats get mobilized, and fast. [..]

The prime alternative to Summers is Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who is very much like Bernanke, only better. She has gone even further in expressing concern for the economy’s persistent unemployment and in criticizing the bipartisan obsession with deficit reduction. I wrote about Yellen’s stellar performance for the Huffington Post back in February.

Yellen deserves to be Fed chair purely on the merits. It pains me to write that if she gets the job, one other major contrast with Summers will weigh in her favor. She is female.

Robert Reich: Detroit, and the Bankruptcy of America’s Social Contract

One way to view Detroit’s bankruptcy — the largest bankruptcy of any American city — is as a failure of political negotiations over how financial sacrifices should be divided among the city’s creditors, city workers, and municipal retirees — requiring a court to decide instead. It could also be seen as the inevitable culmination of decades of union agreements offering unaffordable pension and health benefits to city workers.

But there’s a more basic story here, and it’s being replicated across America: Americans are segregating by income more than ever before. Forty years ago, most cities (including Detroit) had a mixture of wealthy, middle-class, and poor residents. Now, each income group tends to lives separately, in its own city — with its own tax bases and philanthropies that support, at one extreme, excellent schools, resplendent parks, rapid-response security, efficient transportation, and other first-rate services; or, at the opposite extreme, terrible schools, dilapidated parks, high crime, and third-rate services.

William Greider: Stop Larry Summers Before He Messes Up Again

Washington insiders are spreading an alarming news alert. Barack Obama, I am told, is on the brink of making a terrible mistake by appointing Lawrence Summers as the new chairman of the Federal Reserve. That sounds improbable, since Summers is a toxic retread from the old boys’ network and a nettlesome egotist who offended just about everyone during his previous tours in government. More to the point, Summers was a central player in the grave governing errors that led to the financial collapse and a ruined economy.

Surely not, I thought, when I heard the gossip. But my source heard it from the White House. Obama’s senior economic advisers-still dominated by Clintonistas and aging acolytes of Robert Rubin-are pushing the president to choose Summers as the successor to Ben Bernanke, whose term ends in January. And they are urging Obama to make the announcement right now, before the opposition can get organized.

Jul 22 2013

On This Day In History July 22

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

July 22 is the 203rd day of the year (204th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 162 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1933, Wiley Post becomes the first person to fly solo around the world traveling 15,596 miles in 7 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes.

Like many pilots at the time, Post disliked the fact that the speed record for flying around the world was not held by a fixed-wing aircraft, but by the Graf Zeppelin, piloted by Hugo Eckener in 1929 with a time of 21 days. On June 23, 1931, Post and his navigator, Harold Gatty, left Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York in the Winnie Mae with a flight plan that would take them around the world, stopping at Harbour Grace, Flintshire, Hanover twice, Berlin, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Blagoveshchensk, Khabarovsk, Nome where his airscrew had to be repaired, Fairbanks where the airscrew was replaced, Edmonton, and Cleveland before returning to Roosevelt Field. They arrived back on July 1, after traveling 15,474 miles in the record time of 8 days and 15 hours and 51 minutes. The reception they received rivaled Lindbergh’s everywhere they went. They had lunch at the White House on July 6, rode in a ticker-tape parade the next day in New York City, and were honored at a banquet given by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America at the Hotel Astor. After the flight, Post acquired the Winnie Mae from F.C. Hall, and he and Gatty published an account of their journey titled, Around the World in Eight Days, with an introduction by Will Rogers.

His Lockheed Vega aircraft, the Winnie Mae is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and his pressure suit is being prepared for display at the same location. On August 15, 1935, Post and American  humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post’s aircraft crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrow, in Alaska.

Jul 22 2013

Sunday Train: Net Energy Yield and the Steel Interstate Energy Revolution

crossposted from Voices on the Square

In the online support for the April, 2013 Scientific American article on Energy Return on Investment (EROI), Scientific American online interviewed Charles Hall, developer of the EROI concept, on whether Fossil Fuels will be able to maintain economic growth. In one of his answers, Charles Hall responds to the question:

What happens when the EROI gets too low? What’s achievable at different EROIs?

He says:

If you’ve got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you’ve got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you’ve got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

Civilization requires a substantial energy return on investment. You can’t do it on some kind of crummy fuel like corn-based ethanol [with an EROI of around 1:1].

A big problem we have facing the alternatives is they’re all so low EROI. We’d all like to go toward renewable fuels, but it’s not going to be easy at all. And it may be impossible. We may not be able to sustain our civilization on these alternative fuels. I hope we can, but we’ve got to deal with it realistically.

Jul 22 2013

In Memoriam: Helen Thomas 1920 – 2013

Journalism and the world lost one of its greatest on Saturday, the “Dean of the White House Correspondents” Helen Thomas died at her home in Washington. She was 92.

She had a lot of “firsts” for women in journalism. She broke down the walls of the traditional “old boys’ clubs” of the Beltway:

Thomas was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club [..]

In 1962, Thomas convinced Kennedy to not attend the annual dinners held for the White House correspondents and photographers if they disallowed women from attending. Kennedy moved for the dinners to be combined into one event, with women allowed to attend. In 1970, UPI named Thomas their chief White House correspondent, making her the first woman to serve in the position. She was named the chief of UPI’s White House bureau in 1974.

Thomas was the only female print journalist to travel to China with President Richard Nixon during his 1972 visit to China. During the Watergate scandal, Martha Beall Mitchell, wife of United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell, frequently called Thomas to discuss how the Nixon administration was using Mitchell as a scapegoat.

She was the only member of the White House press corp to have her own seat, all the other seats are designated for the media outlets. She often reminded her colleagues, “We are not here to be their friends.”

She was remembered fondly by many this weekend.

She is a the roll model for all us who report the news,

We are the watch dogs

~Helen Thomas~

Thank you, Helen Thomas