Daily Archive: 07/25/2013

Jul 25 2013

“This is Huge”

Majority Concerned Domestic Surveillance Will Go Too Far

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Thursday July 25, 2013 7:59 am

The latest NBC/WSJ poll found that majority of Americans are concerned the government will gone too far.

According to the poll 56 percent of Americans believe that the government’s “anti-terrorism” monitoring programs will go too far and violate the privacy rights of regular people. By comparison only 36 percent are more concerned that the government’s surveillance efforts might not go far enough.This is real shift since 2006 when a plurality worried the government wasn’t going far enough.

This is the second national poll to find a big shift in public opinion following the Snowden’s whistle-blowing. A Quinnipiac poll from earlier this months found that as Americans finally learn the extend of the NSA’s activities they are growing increasingly concerned that the government is violating individual’s civil liberties.

Snowden’s Whistleblowing Creates Climate for Critical House Vote on NSA Surveillance

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Wednesday July 24, 2013 9:24 am

(A) new Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates, “Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the NSA programs are infringing on some Americans’ privacy rights, and about half see those programs as encroaching on their own privacy.”

“Most of those who see the programs as compromising privacy say the intrusions are unjustified,” the Post reports.

Democratic establishment unmasked: prime defenders of NSA bulk spying

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Thursday 25 July 2013 05.09 EDT

The extraordinary events that took place in the House of Representatives yesterday are perhaps the most vivid illustration yet of this dynamic, and it independently reveals several other important trends. The House voted on an amendment sponsored by Justin Amash, the young Michigan lawyer elected in 2010 as a Tea Party candidate, and co-sponsored by John Conyers, the 24-term senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment was simple. It would de-fund one single NSA program: the agency’s bulk collection of the telephone records of all Americans that we first revealed in this space, back on June 6. It accomplished this “by requiring the FISA court under Sec. 215 [of the Patriot Act] to order the production of records that pertain only to a person under investigation“.

The amendment yesterday was defeated. But it lost by only 12 votes: 205-217. Given that the amendment sought to de-fund a major domestic surveillance program of the NSA, the very close vote was nothing short of shocking. In fact, in the post-9/11 world, amendments like this, which directly challenge the Surveillance and National Security States, almost never get votes at all. That the GOP House Leadership was forced to allow it to reach the floor was a sign of how much things have changed over the last seven weeks.



In reality, the fate of the amendment was sealed when the Obama White House on Monday night announced its vehement opposition to it, and then sent NSA officials to the House to scare members that barring the NSA from collecting all phone records of all Americans would Help The Terrorists™.

Using Orwellian language so extreme as to be darkly hilarious, this was the first line of the White House’s statement opposing the amendment: “In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens” (i.e.: we welcome the debate that has been exclusively enabled by that vile traitor, the same debate we’ve spent years trying to prevent with rampant abuse of our secrecy powers that has kept even the most basic facts about our spying activities concealed from the American people).

The White House then condemned Amash/Conyers this way: “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” What a multi-level masterpiece of Orwellian political deceit that sentence is. The highly surgical Amash/Conyers amendment – which would eliminate a single, specific NSA program of indiscriminate domestic spying – is a “blunt approach”, but the Obama NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of all Americans’ telephone records is not a “blunt approach”. Even worse: Amash/Conyers – a House bill debated in public and then voted on in public – is not an “open or deliberative process”, as opposed to the Obama administration’s secret spying activities and the secret court that blesses its secret interpretations of law, which is “open and deliberative”. That anyone can write a statement like the one that came from the Obama White House without dying of shame, or giggles, is impressive.

Even more notable than the Obama White House’s defense of the NSA’s bulk domestic spying was the behavior of the House Democratic leadership. Not only did they all vote against de-funding the NSA bulk domestic spying program – that includes liberal icon House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who voted to protect the NSA’s program – but Pelosi’s deputy, Steny Hoyer, whipped against the bill by channeling the warped language and mentality of Dick Cheney.



Remember when Democrats used to object so earnestly when Dick Cheney would scream “The Terrorists!” every time someone tried to rein in the National Security State just a bit and so modestly protect basic civil liberties? How well they have learned: now, a bill to ban the government from collecting the telephone records of all Americans, while expressly allowing it to collect the records of anyone for whom there is evidence of wrongdoing, is – in the language of the House Democratic Leadership – a bill to Protect The Terrorists.

None of this should be surprising. Remember: this is the same Nancy Pelosi who spent years during the Bush administration pretending to be a vehement opponent of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program after it was revealed by the New York Times, even though (just as was true of the Bush torture program) she was secretly briefed on it many years earlier when it was first implemented.



So the history of Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi isn’t one of opposition to mass NSA spying when Bush was in office, only to change positions now that Obama is. The history is of pretend opposition – of deceiving their supporters by feigning opposition – while actually supporting it.

But the most notable aspect of yesterday’s events was the debate on the House floor. The most vocal defenders of the Obama White House’s position were Rep. Mike Rogers, the very hawkish GOP Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Echoing the Democratic House leadership, Bachmann repeatedly warned that NSA bulk spying was necessary to stop “Islamic jihadists”, and she attacked Republicans who supported de-funding for rendering the nation vulnerable to The Terrorists.

Meanwhile, Amash led the debate against the NSA program and repeatedly assigned time to many of the House’s most iconic liberals to condemn in the harshest terms the NSA program defended by the Obama White House. Conyers repeatedly stood to denounce the NSA program as illegal, unconstitutional and extremist. Manhattan’s Jerry Nadler said that “no administration should be permitted to operate beyond the law, as they’ve been doing”. Newly elected Democrat Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq War combat veteran considered a rising star in her party, said that she could not in good conscience take a single dollar from taxpayers to fund programs that infringe on exactly those constitutional rights our troops (such as herself) have risked their lives for; she told me after the vote, by Twitter direct message, that the “battle [was] lost today but war not over. We will continue to press on this issue.”

In between these denunciations of the Obama NSA from House liberals, some of the most conservative members of the House stood to read from the Fourth Amendment. Perhaps the most amazing moment came when GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner – the prime author of the Patriot Act back in 2001 and a long-time defender of War on Terror policies under both Bush and Obama – stood up to say that the NSA’s domestic bulk spying far exceeds the bounds of the law he wrote as well as his belief in the proper limits of domestic surveillance, and announced his support for Amash/Conyers. Sensenbrenner was then joined in voting to de-fund the NSA program by House liberals such as Barbara Lee, Rush Holt, James Clyburn, Nydia Velázquez, Alan Grayson, and Keith Ellison.



To say that there is a major sea change underway – not just in terms of surveillance policy but broader issues of secrecy, trust in national security institutions, and civil liberties – is to state the obvious. But perhaps the most significant and enduring change will be the erosion of the trite, tired prism of partisan simplicity through which American politics has been understood over the last decade. What one sees in this debate is not Democrat v. Republican or left v. right. One sees authoritarianism v. individualism, fealty to The National Security State v. a belief in the need to constrain and check it, insider Washington loyalty v. outsider independence.

That’s why the only defenders of the NSA at this point are the decaying establishment leadership of both political parties whose allegiance is to the sprawling permanent power faction in Washington and the private industry that owns and controls it. They’re aligned against long-time liberals, the new breed of small government conservatives, the ACLU and other civil liberties groups, many of their own members, and increasingly the American people, who have grown tired of, and immune to, the relentless fear-mongering.

The sooner the myth of “intractable partisan warfare” is dispelled, the better. The establishment leadership of the two parties collaborate on far more than they fight. That is a basic truth that needs to be understood. As John Boehner joined with Nancy Peolsi, as Eric Cantor whipped support for the Obama White House, as Michele Bachmann and Peter King stood with Steny Hoyer to attack NSA critics as Terrorist-Lovers, yesterday was a significant step toward accomplishing that.

Close House Vote on Amash Amendment to Curb the NSA a Blow to the Security State

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I happened to be on the phone with a political expert and insider when the result of the Amash amendment vote in the House of Representatives hit the news wires. While I am sure readers will be disappointed that this proposal to curb the NSA was defeated (see background here), the margin of victory for the bad guys was so stunningly narrow that it shows how badly support for the NSA has fallen even among its normal allies. When I read the vote results to my expert, 205 to 217, his reaction was uncharacteristically heated (he describes his degree of sang froid as somewhere between that of a Chinese sage and a dead dog):

Holy shit, this is huge. The NSA must be shitting in its pants. They got this close to beating them when the opponents had no time and no organizing, and the White House was throwing its weight behind this too.

Jul 25 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

New York Times Editorial Board: Realities in Global Treatment of H.I.V.

The World Health Organization recently issued aggressive new guidelines for treating people infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The guidelines are a welcome step forward but fall short of the treatment goals that could and should be set.

The missing ingredient is enough financing by international donors and many afflicted countries to make treatments widely available.

Currently, an estimated 34 million people around the world are infected with H.I.V., mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. About 9.7 million of them are being treated with antiviral drugs that can prolong their lives for decades. Some seven million more were eligible for the drugs under the previous guidelines but are not yet receiving them.

David Firestone: Boehner’s Hearing Problem

Does Speaker John Boehner speak the same language as the rest of Washington?

Last week, Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told Congress that it was the biggest threat to economic growth in this country. And he wasn’t the least bit ambiguous about why: unnecessary austerity and dangerous threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. [..]

But Mr. Boehner apparently heard a different speech. Or perhaps a different Fed chairman. Or maybe, like so many Republicans, he has his news pre-digested for him by media outlets so that it comes out more to his taste.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Tom Friedman: A New Ayn Rand for A Dark Digital Future

If Thomas Friedman didn’t exist, America’s high-tech entrepreneurs would have had to invent him.  Come to think of it, maybe they did. The dark science-fiction vision he celebrates serves them well, at pretty much everyone else’s expense.

Friedman’s vision is worth studying, if only because it reflects the distorted perspective of some very wealthy and influential people. In their world the problems of the many are as easily fixed as a line of code, with no sacrifice required of them or their fellow billionaires.

Case in point: 15 or 20 million Americans seeking full-time employment? To Thomas Friedman, that’s a branding problem.

Mark Gongloff: The Many Reasons Larry Summers Would Be A Terrible Fed Chairman

It’s official: Pretty much everybody thinks Larry Summers would make a terrible Federal Reserve chairman.

Everybody, that is, except for the one guy whose vote matters*: President Obama, who has apparently decided that Summers is now the front-runner for the Fed job, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. MSNBC’s Christopher Hayes reported that the White House has “all but decided” to pick Summers. And CNBC’s John Harwood also reported on Monday that, when asked if Summers was the top candidate for the post, Obama said he “should be.”

No! No, President Obama, he should not be. Let us all hope that this is simply some kind of very frightening trial balloon and not reality. Because Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary, Harvard president, Obama economic adviser, toxic-waste-dump-finder, woman-disser and Winklevoss dream-crusher, would be wrong for the job in so many ways. I could write you several hundred words about that, as I did last year when Summers’ name was on the list of potential presidents of the World Bank.

But I don’t have to do that, because the Internet did it for me yesterday, almost immediately after Klein’s story was published.

Philip Giraldi: Edward Snowden is no ‘traitor’

Far from aiding our enemies, the NSA whistleblower has exposed our own government’s subversion of Americans’ rights

There are a number of narratives being floated by the usual suspects to attempt to demonstrate that Edward Snowden is a traitor who has betrayed secrets vital to the security of the United States. All the arguments being made are essentially without merit. Snowden has undeniably violated his agreement to protect classified information, which is a crime. But in reality, he has revealed only one actual secret that matters, which is the United States government’s serial violation of the fourth amendment to the constitution through its collection of personal information on millions of innocent American citizens without any probable cause or search warrant.

That makes Snowden a whistleblower, as he is exposing illegal activity on the part of the federal government. The damage he has inflicted is not against US national security, but rather on the politicians and senior bureaucrats who ordered, managed, condoned, and concealed the illegal activity.

Robert Reich: Why Republicans Are Disciplined and Democrats Aren’t

Republican discipline and Democratic lack of discipline isn’t a new phenomenon. As Will Rogers once said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

The difference has to do with the kind of personalities the two parties attract. People who respect authority, follow orders, want clear answers, obey commands, and prefer precise organization and control, tend to gravitate toward Republicans.

On the other hand, people who don’t much like authority, recoil from orders, don’t believe in clear answers, often disobey commands, and prefer things a bit undefined, tend to gravitate to the Democrats.

In short, the Republican Party is the party of the authoritarian personality; the Democratic Party is the party of the anti-authoritarian personality.

Jul 25 2013

On This Day In History July 25

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 25 is the 206th day of the year (207th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 159 days remaining until the end of the year.

 

On this day in 1788, Wolfgang Mozart completes his Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

The question of the Symphony’s premiere

There is no completely solid documentary evidence that the premiere of the 40th Symphony took place in Mozart’s lifetime. However, as Zaslaw (1983) points out, the circumstantial evidence that it was performed is very strong. On several occasions between the composition of the symphony and the composer’s death, symphony concerts were given featuring Mozart’s music, including concerts in which the program has survived, including a symphony, unidentified by date or key.

Most important is the fact that Mozart revised his symphony (the manuscripts of both versions still exist). As Zaslaw says, this “demonstrates that [the symphony] was performed, for Mozart would hardly have gone to the trouble of adding the clarinets and rewriting the flutes and oboes to accommodate them, had he not had a specific performance in view.” The orchestra for the 1791 Vienna concert included the clarinetist brothers Anton and Johann Stadler; which, as Zaslaw points out, limits the possibilities to just the 39th and 40th symphonies.

Zaslaw adds: “The version without clarinets must also have been performed, for the reorchestrated version of two passages in the slow movement, which exists in Mozart’s hand, must have resulted from his having heard the work and discovered an aspect needing improvement.”

Concerning the concerts for which the Symphony was originally (1788) intended, Otto Erich Deutsch suggests that Mozart was preparing to hold a series of three “Concerts in the Casino”, in a new casino in the Spiegelgasse owned by Philipp Otto. Mozart even sent a pair of tickets for this series to his friend Michael Puchberg. But it seems impossible to determine whether the concert series was held, or was cancelled for lack of interest. Zaslaw suggests that only the first of the three concerts was actually held.

Jul 25 2013

Not W

In a stunning race to the bottom, recent popular policies like spying an all Americans, proposing cuts to earned benefits, and prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists instead of fraudulent Bansters have sent Obama approval ratings soaring to heights not seen since the very same period in the mega awesome presidency of George W. Bush.

Poll: Obama’s job approval plunges; Congress, especially GOP, still unpopular

By David Lightman, McClatchy

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stung by Americans’ persistent worries about the economy and a capital gripped by controversy and gridlock, President Barack Obama is suffering his lowest job approval numbers in nearly two years, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

The plummeting numbers – still higher than those of Congress – come after weeks of rising gasoline prices, revelations about domestic spying and turmoil in the Middle East.



“Clearly six months into his second term there’s been falloff across the board. It’s not like one group bailed on him,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.



The president has been weathering a succession of spring and summer political storms. In May, news broke that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted for special scrutiny tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. In June, the administration was rocked by revelations about secret government programs that collect data from U.S. phone records and the Internet.

Foreign policy is also taking a political toll. This month, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted, and Syria remained a bloody battleground. By a 48-41 percent margin, people disapproved of how the president is handling foreign policy. In April, approvals slightly outnumbered disapprovals.



And though the nation has technically been in an economic recovery for four years, most Americans aren’t feeling it. Fifty-four percent said they thought the U.S. remains in a recession, and 60 percent saw the country going in the wrong direction.

Poll: President Obama nears all-time low

By TAL KOPAN, Politico

7/24/13 6:47 AM EDT

Just 45 percent of those surveyed in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll said they approved of the job the president was doing, a drop of 3 points from June. Fifty percent said they disapproved.

That’s close to the lowest numbers registered for Obama in the poll, a 44 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval rating registered in November 2011.

The poll’s numbers reflect Americans’ assessment of how Obama is handling the economy: Forty-four percent said they approved and 51 percent said they disapproved.

Pollsters also pointed to a drop in support among African-Americans as a possible explanation for Obama’s falling numbers, as 78 percent approve of Obama’s work, a 10 point drop since June and 15 point drop since April.

Obama’s approval rating is the same as George W. Bush’s was at this point in his second term, while Bill Clinton’s approval rating was significantly higher, at 56 percent, during this point in his second term, The Journal said.

About the only bright spot is Congress is doing worse-

When asked if they would vote for a ballot measure that would replace every member of Congress, 57 percent of adults polled said they would.

Let’s hear it for electoral victory!

First Time in Over a Year Democrats and Republicans Are Tied in the Generic Ballot

By: Jon Walker, Firedog Lake

Wednesday July 24, 2013 11:16 am

The latest NBC/WSJ poll has some good news for Republicans. They are tied with Democrats in the Congressional generic ballot with each party currently at 44 percent. An equal number of Americans want the next election to result in a Republican controlled Congress as want it to result in a Democrat controlled one.

This is the first time in almost two years Republicans have finally closed the polling gap. Democrats have held at least a small lead over Republicans in NBC/WSJ polling since October of 2011.

This is especially good news for Republicans because they don’t even need to win more votes than the Democrats to make real gains in Congress next year.

Yes, Neoliberal policies are poised to deliver the same kind of resounding success they did in 2010.  Heck of a job, congratulations.

Jul 25 2013

The NSA – Hiding a Shadow Government Behind a Haystack, “To Keep Us Safe”

obama stasiThe enormous service that a certain whistleblower has provided to Americans and the world at large, is becoming clear even in the face of shrill cries of “traitor” and histrionic accusations of “aiding the enemy.”

That certain whistleblower (who will not be named, in hopes of avoiding comments about personalities rather than revelations) has shone a light on a shadow government, a set of parallel institutions that operate without democratic controls.  It is a government-corporate warren of institutions that uses secrecy and the application of large amounts of cash to avoid democratic control by the people and has allied with corporate chieftains and hijacked large corporations, defying the “discipline of the market” and the democratic controls of shareholders and chartering states.

Some portion of these institutions have been described before; Dana Priest and William Arkin did ground-breaking work scouring the public record and describing the size and shape of the leviathan entity:

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

James Bamford did remarkable work describing the capabilities of some of these institutions and previous whistleblowers like William Binney and Thomas Drake have described what some of these institutions do.  Binney and Drake, however, did not have documentary proof, the gold standard of credibility, which changes discussions marred with accusations of “conspiracy theories” to discussions about conspiracy reality:  

One of the arguments about [redacted] that I’ve occasionally gotten caught up in is: What difference has he made? Has he really told us very much we didn’t know before?

In a broad sense, you can argue that he hasn’t. We knew (or certainly suspected) that NSA was collecting enormous streams of telephone metadata. We knew they were issuing subpoenas for data from companies like Google and Microsoft. We knew that Section 702 warrants were very broad. We knew that domestic data sometimes got inadvertently collected. We knew that massive amounts of foreign phone and email traffic were monitored.

As it happens, we’ve learned more than just this from the documents on [redacted’s] four laptops. Still, even if you accept this argument in general terms-and I’ve made it myself-[redacted] still matters. It’s one thing to know about this stuff in broad strokes. It’s quite another to have specific, documented details. That’s what [redacted] has given us, and it makes a big difference in public debate. …

This is how change happens. The public gets hit over the head with something, lawmakers are forced to take notice, and maybe, just maybe, Congress holds oversight hearings and decides to change the law. There’s no guarantee that will happen this time, but it might. And regardless of how “new” [redacted’s] revelations have been, we have him to thank for this.

A certain whistleblower has documentation.  That documentation has already outed high government officials as (unindicted) perjurers and liars and impugned the veracity of information presented to the public on the NSA website and caused the NSA to hastily remove the misleading documents.

These high government officials have made a mockery of the President’s asssertion that his administration is being transparent and that we should have a national debate about these matters.  One cannot seriously debate an issue when one side controls access to the facts and is economical with the truth, while at the same time introducing blatant falsehoods into the discussion.  If the administration wanted to have a debate, and its behaviors indicate otherwise, it must stop acting in bad faith toward the American people.