Daily Archive: 07/29/2013

Jul 29 2013

Wyden: FISA Court is an Anachronism

Before last week’s vote on the Amash/Conyer Amendment, that would have stripped financing for the NSA program of unfettered surveillance, the American people were already shifting in how they viewed these programs. Over the weekend Pew conducted another poll showing that the shift is even more stark.

“Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, while 35% say they are more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004.”

Major opinion shifts, in the US and Congress, on NSA surveillance and privacy

by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Pew finds that, for the first time since 9/11, Americans are now more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism

Perhaps more amazingly still, this shift has infected the US Congress. Following up on last week’s momentous House vote – in which 55% of Democrats and 45% of Republicans defied the White House and their own leadership to vote for the Amash/Conyers amendment to ban the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program – the New York Times has an article this morning which it summarizes on its front page this way:

Congress Against NSA Xurveillance photo nyt1_zps2e4cb29e.png

Click on image to enlarge

The article describes how opposition to the NSA, which the paper says was recently confined to the Congressional “fringes”, has now “built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House.” [..]

The strategy for the NSA and its Washington defenders for managing these changes is now clear: advocate their own largely meaningless reform to placate this growing sentiment while doing nothing to actually rein in the NSA’s power. “Backers of sweeping surveillance powers now say they recognize that changes are likely, and they are taking steps to make sure they maintain control over the extent of any revisions,” says the NYT.

The primary problem enabling out-of-control NSA spying has long been the Intelligence Committees in both houses of Congress. That’s an ironic twist given that those were the committees created in the wake of the mid-1970s Church Committee to provide rigorous oversight, as a response to the recognition that Executive Branch’s surveillance powers were being radically abused – and would inevitably be abused in the future – without robust transparency and accountability. [..]

The largest changes toward demanding civil liberties protections have occurred among liberal Democrats, Tea Party Republicans, independents and liberal/moderate Republicans. Only self-identified “moderate/conservative Democrats” – the Obama base – remains steadfast and steady in defense of NSA surveillance. The least divided, most-pro-NSA caucus in the House for last week’s vote was the corporatist Blue Dog Democrat caucus, which overwhelmingly voted to protect the NSA’s bulk spying on Americans.

As I’ve repeatedly said, the only ones defending the NSA at this point are the party loyalists and institutional authoritarians in both parties. That’s enough for the moment to control Washington outcomes – as epitomized by the unholy trinity that saved the NSA in the House last week: Pelosi, John Bohener and the Obama White House – but it is clearly not enough to stem the rapidly changing tide of public opinion.

On Sunday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), one of the harshest critics of the NSA and the FISA court, was a guest on C-Span’s Newsmankers. He called the FISA court “anachronistic” and stated that he is most likely to support overhaul of the secretive court. He was particularly alarmed by the way that the Patriot Act was being interpreted by the federal government in its fight against terrorism.

Jul 29 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: Not Too Big to Fail

New rules on bank capital, recently proposed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other bank regulators, are a welcome step toward a safer and sounder financial system. And they come at a politically timely moment. Big banks invariably argue that new rules will impede their ability to thrive and, in the process, harm the economy. But their profits are soaring, even as the economy slows, a situation that makes their shopworn anti-regulatory argument all the more threadbare.

It is not the banks that need protection from regulation; it is the public that needs protection from banks that are regarded as too big to fail. The new rules would require the nation’s biggest banks to hold significantly more capital than is required under international agreements. The salutary aim is to bolster the banks’ ability to absorb losses, thereby reducing the odds of failure and the need for taxpayer bailouts.

Paul Krugman: Stranded by Sprawl

Detroit is a symbol of the old economy’s decline. It’s not just the derelict center; the metropolitan area as a whole lost population between 2000 and 2010, the worst performance among major cities. Atlanta, by contrast, epitomizes the rise of the Sun Belt; it gained more than a million people over the same period, roughly matching the performance of Dallas and Houston without the extra boost from oil.

Yet in one important respect booming Atlanta looks just like Detroit gone bust: both are places where the American dream seems to be dying, where the children of the poor have great difficulty climbing the economic ladder. In fact, upward social mobility – the extent to which children manage to achieve a higher socioeconomic status than their parents – is even lower in Atlanta than it is in Detroit. And it’s far lower in both cities than it is in, say, Boston or San Francisco, even though these cities have much slower growth than Atlanta.

John Naughton: Edward Snowden’s Not the Story. The Fate of the Internet Is

The press has lost the plot over the Snowden revelations. The fact is that the net is finished as a global network and that US firms’ cloud services cannot be trusted

Repeat after me: Edward Snowden is not the story. The story is what he has revealed about the hidden wiring of our networked world. This insight seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media, for reasons that escape me but would not have surprised Evelyn Waugh, whose contempt for journalists was one of his few endearing characteristics. The obvious explanations are: incorrigible ignorance; the imperative to personalise stories; or gullibility in swallowing US government spin, which brands Snowden as a spy rather than a whistleblower.

In a way, it doesn’t matter why the media lost the scent. What matters is that they did. So as a public service, let us summarise what Snowden has achieved thus far.

Robert Kuttner: The Bungled Coronation of Larry Summers

What a difference a week makes. A week ago, a carefully orchestrated series of leaks signaled that President Obama was on the verge of naming Larry Summers to succeed Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve. Those leaks came from senior administration officials, including Obama himself. Now, a massive backlash from Senate Democrats makes Summers’ appointment something of a long shot.

A lot of the news coverage has suggested that this controversy was mainly about gender — Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, the previous front runner, being shoved aside by the upstart Summers, preferred candidate of the old boys and a man famously insensitive to women. But though gender was key in triggering the backlash by offended Yellen supporters, it is not the core part of the story.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Banknado!

It’s a real-life disaster movie, one that’s left neighborhoods in ruins all across the country, killed thousands of people, and ruined millions of lives. You might call it a “Banknado.”

Yes, we know the Sharknado craze ended about ten days ago. The sci-fi movie’s premise of tornadoes filled with deadly sharks has probably passed its cultural sell-by date. But we’ll use the metaphor anyway, because it’s just so apt: Wall Street’s a whirlwind filled with predators descending on a hapless population.

And while our leaders stand idly by, the teeth-filled twisters keep falling from the sky. Look out below!

Ray McGovern: Puttin’ the Pressure on Putin

The main question now on the fate of truth-teller Edward Snowden is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will see any benefit in helping stop the United States from further embarrassing itself as it prances around the globe acting like a “pitiful, helpless giant.” That image was coined by President Richard Nixon, who insisted that the giant of America would merit those adjectives if it did not prevail in South Vietnam.

It is no secret that Putin is chuckling as Attorney General Eric Holder and other empty-shirts-cum-corporate-law-office-silk-ties – assisted ably by White House spokesperson Jay Carney – proceed willy-nilly to transform the Snowden case from a red-faced diplomatic embarrassment for the United States into a huge geopolitical black eye before the rest of the world.

Jul 29 2013

On This Day In History July 29

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 29 is the 210th day of the year (211th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 155 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1858, the Harris Treaty was signed between the United States and Japan was signed at the Ryosen-ji in Shimoda.  Also known as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, it opened the ports of  Edo and four other Japanese cities to American trade and granted extraterritoriality to foreigners, among other stipulations.

The treaty followed the 1854 Convention of Kanagawa, which granted coaling rights for U.S. ships and allowed for a U.S. Consul in Shimoda. Although Commodore Matthew Perry secured fuel for U.S. ships and protection, he left the important matter of trading rights to Townsend Harris, another U.S. envoy who negotiated with the Tokugawa Shogunate; the treaty is therefore often referred to as the Harris Treaty. It took two years to break down Japanese resistance, but with the threat of looming British demands for similar privileges, the Tokugawa government eventually capitulated.

Treaties of Amity and Commerce between Japan and Holland, England, France, Russia and the United States, 1858.

The most important points were:

   * exchange of diplomatic agents

   * Edo, Kobe, Nagasaki, Niigata, and Yokohama‘s opening to foreign trade as ports

   * ability of United States citizens to live and trade in those ports

   * a system of phttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraterritoriality extraterritoriality] that provided for the subjugation of foreign residents to the laws of their own consular courts instead of the Japanese law system

   * fixed low import-export duties, subject to international control

The agreement served as a model for similar treaties signed by Japan with other foreign countries in the ensuing weeks. These Unequal Treaties curtailed Japanese sovereignty for the first time in its history; more importantly, it revealed Japan’s growing weakness, and was seen by the West as a pretext for possible colonisation of Japan. The recovery of national status and strength became an overarching priority for the Japanese, with the treaty’s domestic consequences being the end of Bakufu (Shogun) control and the establishment of a new imperial government.

Jul 29 2013

“Taxi to the Dark Side”

Taxi to the Dark Side

Taxi to the Dark Side is a 2007 documentary film directed by American filmmaker Alex Gibney, and produced by Eva Orner and Susannah Shipman, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It focuses on the killing of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Parwan Detention Facility.

Taxi to the Dark Side examines the USA’s policy on torture and interrogation in general, specifically the CIA’s use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The film includes opposition to the use of torture from its political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of the Geneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in shows such as 24.

It is part of the Why Democracy? series, which consists of ten documentary films from around the world questioning and examining contemporary democracy. As part of the series, Taxi to the Dark Side was broadcast in over 30 different countries around the world from October 8-18, 2007.

Jul 29 2013

Sunday Train: Traveling to Our Death and The Fatal Santiago Train Derailment

At the time that I start writing, the death toll from the train wreck that took place in Santiago de Compostela in Spain has risen to 79. According to an account shortly after the crash (sp):

Alternating AVE segments with segments of conventional track or of lower specifications occurs at other points of the line. The Alvia train between Madrid and Ferrol, the fastest going through Santigo, travels on different tracks. Between Madrid and Olmedo (Valladolid) it takes advantage of the AVE track. Then, between Olmedo and Ourense it returns to a conventional track, waiting for the completion of the AVE works already underway. Finally, between Ourense and Ferrol it again joins the AVE line, which at the entrance to Santiago goes alongside the old track.

 

At that moment, the train must brake and when it reaches the tight bend where the accident took place it must leave it speed at barely 80km/h. The velocity drop at that point is very steep: form 200 km/h to 80 in a short time span.

 

The causes of the excessive speed are still not known. The line where the accident occurred is still not within the ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System), a rail traffic mnagement system preventing a train from exceeding the established speed limit or disobey stop signals, very similar to the automatic alert systems already installed in many European countries. This system is the one deployed, for instance, on the Madrid-Barcelona AVE line in october 2011. (translation by Migeru at the European Tribune)

The statement “the cause of the excessive speed are still not know” is referring to the proximate cause, since the ultimate cause is stated directly after: the line is not within the version of Positive Train Control signal system used in Europe, the ERTMS.

30 July: Also see this UPDATE at Voices on the Square: The Santiago Train Derailment Could Have Been Prevented with a Euro 6,000 beacon