Daily Archive: 08/09/2013

Aug 09 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”.

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Krugman: Phony Fear Factor

We live in a golden age of economic debunkery; fallacious doctrines have been dropping like flies. No, monetary expansion needn’t cause hyperinflation. No, budget deficits in a depressed economy don’t cause soaring interest rates. No, slashing spending doesn’t create jobs. No, economic growth doesn’t collapse when debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P.

And now the latest myth bites the dust: No, “economic policy uncertainty” – created, it goes without saying, by That Man in the White House – isn’t holding back the recovery. [..]

And the policy moral is clear: We need to stop talking about spending cuts and start talking about job-creating spending increases instead. Yes, I know that the politics of doing the right thing will be very hard. But, as far as the economics goes, the only thing we have to fear is fear-mongering itself.

New York Times Editorial Board: Breaking Through Limits on Spying

Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the National Security Agency is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency’s inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans. Time and again, the N.S.A. has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.  [..]

It turns out, as Charlie Savage revealed in The Times on Thursday, that the N.S.A. went far beyond those boundaries. Instead, it copies virtually all overseas messages that Americans send or receive, then scans them to see if they contain any references to people or subjects the agency thinks might have a link to terrorists.

Amy Goodman: Please Read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 on Your Vacation, Mr. President

Senator Obama’s objection to ‘a dumb war’ won him nomination. As commander-in-chief, he has reneged on opposing militarism

As the Obama family heads to their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps the president should take along a copy of Catch-22 for some beach reading. Joseph Heller’s classic, satirical anti-war novel, published in 1961 and based on his experiences as a bombardier in the second world war, is sadly relevant today, as Obama’s wars, in Afghanistan and beyond, drag on. [..]

Heller’s protagonist in Catch-22, Captain Yossarian, holds a wounded comrade – named Snowden, coincidentally – who dies in his arms. The experience cements Yossarian’s opposition to war. Bradley Manning, too, went to war, and hated what he saw. He took action, leaking documents to spark a national debate.

Heller’s depiction of war – grim and stark – was fiction, though based on his own experience. Obama’s wars, his drone strikes, his war on whistleblowers, are all too real.

Mark Weisbrot: The More Nefarious US Foreign Policy, The More It Relies on Media Complicity

Americans are shielded from the ugly consequences of US military power by our journalists’ self-censorship

The US still has military spending that is higher in real, inflation-adjusted terms than it was during the peak of the Reagan cold war build-up, the Vietnam war and the Korean war. We seem to be in a state of permanent warfare, and – we have recently learned – massive government spying and surveillance of our own citizens. This is despite an ever-receding threat to the actual physical security of Americans. Only 19 people have been killed by acts of terrorism in the US since 11 September 2001, and none or almost none of these was connected to foreign terrorists. Also, there are no “enemy states” that pose a significant military threat to the US – if any governments can be called “enemy states” at all.

Michael T. Klare: How to Fry a Planet

The Third Carbon Age: Don’t for a Second Imagine We’re Heading for an Era of Renewable Energy

When it comes to energy and economics in the climate-change era, nothing is what it seems.  Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables, just as oil had long since superseded the Age of Coal.  President Obama offered exactly this vision in a much-praised June address on climate change.  True, fossil fuels will be needed a little bit longer, he indicated, but soon enough they will be overtaken by renewable forms of energy.

Many other experts share this view, assuring us that increased reliance on “clean” natural gas combined with expanded investments in wind and solar power will permit a smooth transition to a green energy future in which humanity will no longer be pouring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  All this sounds promising indeed.  There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down.  The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables.  Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects, mainly involving the exploitation of what are called “unconventional” oil and gas reserves.

Diana Ravitch: Punishing Kids for Adult Failures

The massive score drop on tough new New York tests gives us an opportunity–and obligation–to change course

Test scores across New York State have collapsed, new results released Wednesday showed. Last year, 55% of students in the state passed the reading test; 65% passed the math test. This year, only 31% passed both subjects. In New York City, the proportion passing the state tests fell from 47% in reading and 60% in math to only 26% in reading and 30% in math.

Did the students suddenly get stupid? Did their teachers become incompetent overnight? Did schools fail en masse? [..]

he leaders of the state seem intent on discouraging students, teachers and principals. Why do they want public schools to look bad? That is a question for them to answer.

The madness must end. Next spring, parents should keep their children home on testing day. Or send them to school with a note saying that they are opting out of the state testing. They should exercise their rights as citizens and send a message to the state: “Not with my child.”

Aug 09 2013

The best that you can do

NSA cites case as success of phone data-collection program

By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post

Published: August 8

He was a San Diego cab driver who fled Somalia as a teenager, winning asylum in the United States after he was wounded during fighting among warring tribes. Today, Basaaly Moalin, 36, is awaiting sentencing following his conviction on charges that he sent $8,500 to Somalia in support of the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Moalin’s prosecution, barely noticed when the case was in court, has suddenly come to the fore of a national debate about U.S. surveillance. Under pressure from Congress, senior intelligence officials have offered it as their primary example of the unique value of a National Security Agency program that collects tens of millions of phone records from Americans.

Officials have said that NSA surveillance tools have helped disrupt terrorist plots or identify suspects in 54 cases in the United States and overseas. In many of those cases, an agency program that targets the communication of foreigners, including e-mails, has proved critical.



(I)n 2007, the NSA came up with a number in Somalia that it believed was linked to al-Shabab. It ran the number against its database.



The NSA found that the San Diego number had had “indirect” contact with “an extremist outside the United States,” FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce told the Senate last week. The agency passed the number to the FBI, which used an administrative subpoena to identify it as Moalin’s. Then, according to court records, in late 2007, the bureau obtained a wiretap order and over the course of a year listened to Moalin’s conversations. About 2,000 calls were intercepted.



In 2009, an FBI field intelligence group assessed that Moalin’s support for al-Shabab was not ideological. Rather, according to an FBI document provided to his defense team, Moalin probably sent money to an al-Shabab leader out of “tribal affiliation” and to “promote his own status” with tribal elders.

In 2010, three years after the bureau opened an investigation, it arrested Moalin as he was about to board a flight to Somalia to visit his wife and children.



U.S. officials argue that Moalin’s number probably would not have surfaced – at least not in a timely fashion – had it not been for the database.



Such arguments do not persuade critics, even when the government asserts that the database helped break another case involving a co-conspirator in a plot to bomb the New York City subway system. “In both cases,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said recently on the Senate floor, “the government had all the information it needed to go to the phone company and get an individual court order.”

If time was of the essence, he said, a different court order or administrative subpoena would allow for an emergency request for the records. Wyden noted that both Moalin and the subway plot co-conspirator were arrested “months or years after they were first identified” by mining the phone logs.

The bottom line, said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member, is that even if the program is “only occasionally successful, there’s still no justification that I can see for obtaining that amount of data in the first place.”

Aug 09 2013

Taxes

I have a uncle who lives there.

No, I’m talking about taxes, money, dollars.

That’s where he lives.  Dollars, Taxes.

Corporate sell-outs exploit a secret new gimmick

By David Sirota, Salon

Wednesday, Jul 31, 2013 4:33 PM UTC

As The Hill reports, the U.S. Senate’s “top tax writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve” in a tax “reform” bill that aims to overhaul the tax code from scratch. The system, reports the newspaper, allows only 10 congressional staff members to have “direct access to a senator’s written suggestions” and “each submission will be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes” in the National Archives until the end of 2064.



(C)onsider the career of one of the architects of this scheme, Max Baucus.

The retiring Montana senator is the senior Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee. In that position, he hasn’t used his power to rid the tax code of corporate-written loopholes, subsidies and handouts – the public record shows that he has used his power to riddle the tax code with those expensive giveaways. In exchange for embedding those handouts in the tax code, Baucus has been rewarded handsomely with campaign cash to the point where he has been famously labeled “K Street’s Favorite Senator.” That label is particularly appropriate considering a recent dispatch from the New York Times showing that “no other lawmaker on Capitol Hill has such a sizable constellation of former aides working as tax lobbyists.”

In light of such a record, the notion that Baucus has built the anonymous submission system in order to help challenge K Street is, in a word, absurd. Having spent so much political capital enriching his corporate donors and lobbyists at the expense of taxpayers, he is retiring with one last gift to those benefactors – a secrecy system designed to let them rewrite the tax code from scratch in a way that most serves their interests.

Aug 09 2013

On This Day In History August 9

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

August 9 is the 221st day of the year (222nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 144 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1974, one day after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president, making him the first man to assume the presidency upon his predecessor’s resignation. He was also the first non-elected vice president and non-elected president, which made his ascendance to the presidency all the more unique.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.; July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974. As the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, when he became President upon Richard Nixon’s  resignation on August 9, 1974, he also became the only President of the United States who was elected neither President nor Vice-President.

Before ascending to the vice-presidency, Ford served nearly 25 years as Representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district, eight of them as the Republican Minority Leader.

As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward detente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, US involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over what was then the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. One of his more controversial acts was to grant a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During Ford’s incumbency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President. In 1976, Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. After experiencing health problems and being admitted to the hospital four times in 2006, Ford died in his home on December 26, 2006. He lived longer than any other U.S. president, dying at the age of 93 years and 165 days.

Aug 09 2013

The Greatest Lies Ever Told

Someone suggested that latest lie told by President Barack Obama on the Jay Leno Show that other night stating, “There is no spying on Americans. We don’t have a domestic spying program,” was up there with the 10 greatest lies ever told. That fallacy of the president’s declaration was made very obvious in a New York Times article by Charlie Savage on the latest and greatest NSA domestic surveillance program. The NSA has been copying virtually all overseas messages that Americans send or receive, scanning them to see if they contain any references to people or subjects the agency thinks might have a link to terrorists.

Hints of the surveillance appeared in a set of rules, leaked by Mr. Snowden, for how the N.S.A. may carry out the 2008 FISA law. One paragraph mentions that the agency “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.” The pages were posted online by the newspaper The Guardian on June 20, but the telltale paragraph, the only rule marked “Top Secret” amid 18 pages of restrictions, went largely overlooked amid other disclosures.

In an opinion by the New York Times Editorial Board, these messages could be very private and no connection to terrorists or terrorist activity:

That could very well include innocent communications between family members expressing fears of a terror attack. Or messages between an editor and a reporter who is covering international security issues. Or the privileged conversation between a lawyer and a client who is being investigated.

Data collection on this scale goes far beyond what Congress authorized, and it clearly shreds a common-sense understanding of the Fourth Amendment. It’s as if the government were telling its citizens not to even talk about security issues in private messages or else they will come to the attention of the nation’s spies.

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Rumold explains what it means to be an NSA target:

When “Target” Means Searching a Specific Person’s Communications

First, at least this much is clear: a “target” under the FA (FISA Amendments Act ) must be (a) a non-US person and (b) not physically located within the United States. A “person,” for purposes of the FAA, includes individuals as well as “any group, entity, association, corporation, or foreign power.”  Under the FAA, the government can thus “target” a single individual (e.g., Vladimir Putin), a small group of people (e.g., Pussy Riot), or a formal corporation or entity (e.g., Gazprom).

So, when the NSA decides to “target” someone (or something), it turns its specific surveillance vacuum at them. [..]

When “Target” Means Searching Everyone’s Communications

Once a target is established, the NSA believes it can expand the sweep of its interception far more broadly than the communhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2013/jun/20/exhibit-a-procedures-nsa-documentications of the particular, identified target. Notably, the NSA’s procedures state (emphasis added):

   [I]n those cases where NSA seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target, NSA will either employ an Internet Protocol filter to ensure that the person from whom it seeks to obtain foreign intelligence information is located overseas, or it will target Internet links that terminate in a foreign country.

In plain English: the NSA believes it not only can (1) intercept the communications of the target, but also (2) intercept communications about a target, even if the target isn’t a party to the communication. The most likely way to assess if a communication is “about” a target is to conduct a content analysis of communications, probably based on specific search terms or selectors.

And that, folks, is what we call a content dragnet.

Importantly, under the NSA’s rules, when the agency intercepts communications about a target, the author or speaker of those communications does not, thereby, become a target: the target remains the original, non-US person. But, because the target remains a non-US person, the most robust protection for Americans’ communications under the FISA Amendments Act (and, indeed, the primary reassurance the government has given about the surveillance) flies out the window. If you communicate about a target of NSA surveillance, your citizenship is irrelevant: the only thing standing between you and NSA surveillance is your IP address or the fiber optic path through which your communications flow.

Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, made the following comments about the latest revelations:

“The program described by the New York Times involves a breathtaking invasion of millions of people’s privacy.  The NSA has cast a massive dragnet over Americans’ international communications, collecting and monitoring all of them, and retaining some untold number of them in government databases.  This is precisely the kind of generalized spying that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.

“The government’s scrutiny of virtually every international email sent by Americans will have extraordinary consequences for free expression. Americans will inevitably hesitate to discuss controversial topics, visit politically sensitive websites, or interact with foreigners with dissenting views. By injecting the NSA into virtually every cross-border interaction, the U.S. government will forever alter what has always been an open exchange of ideas.

“There is no spying on Americans. We don’t have a domestic spying program,” is right up there with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sex with that woman.”