Daily Archive: 08/19/2013

Aug 19 2013

The Forest and the Trees

In another assault on the freedom of the press and a naked attempt at intimidation, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport and questioned for nine hours under Great Britain’s Terrorism Act:

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours (pdf).

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. [..]

While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights.

This was the reaction of Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy:

“It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.

“David’s detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty, vindictive reasons.

“There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden.”

Of course the White House denies ordering the detention or the confiscation of Mr. Miranda’s property, but considering the lies that have been told and the use of “national security” as a reason to cover up the lies and crimes of two administrations, there is certainly good reason to question the veracity of any statements from the White House. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted that the White House was notified in advance of the action.

The detention has caused some outrage in Britain with  condemnation and calls for an explanation from the police of why Mr. Miranda was held under the anti-terroism law since there was no little evidence that he was involved in, or connected to terrorism.

Keith Vaz (chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee) called the detention of Miranda “extraordinary” and said he would be writing immediately to police to request information about why Miranda was held under anti-terrorism laws when there appeared to be little evidence that he was involved in terrorism. [..]

“It is an extraordinary twist to a very complicated story,” Vaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “Of course it is right that the police and security services should question people if they have concerns or the basis of any concerns about what they are doing in the United Kingdom. What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr Greenwald and the Brazilian government. They indeed have said they are concerned at the use of terrorism legislation for something that does not appear to relate to terrorism, so it needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly.”

Vaz said he was not aware that personal property could be confiscated under the laws. “What is extraordinary is they knew he was the partner [of Greenwald] and therefore it is clear not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved,” he said. “Bearing in mind it is a new use of terrorism legislation to detain someone in these circumstances […] I’m certainly interested in knowing, so I will write to the police to ask for the justification of the use of terrorism legislation – they may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. But if we are going to use the act in this way … then at least we need to know so everyone is prepared.”

The British anti-terrorist legislation watchdog, David Anderson QC, also called for an explanation from called on the Home Office and Metropolitan police over what is being called a “gross misuse” of the terror law.:

The intervention by Anderson came as the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called for an urgent investigation into the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain Miranda. Cooper said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been misused after detention caused “considerable consternation”.

Cooper said public support for schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act could be undermined if there was a perception it was not being used for the right purposes. “Any suggestion that terror powers are being misused must be investigated and clarified urgently,” she said. “The public support for these powers must not be endangered by a perception of misuse.

Laura Poitras, with whom Mr. Miranda was visiting in Berlin and whose work usually involves sensitive national security issues, had recently relocated to Berlin, Germany because of the harassment at US airports.

Glenn Greenwald called the detention of his partner a failed attempt at intimidation:

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.

The press and the supporters of police state tactic of the US and Britain focused on the individuals involved completely miss the heart of this matter, the world wide freedom of the press, the free flow of information and the rights of people’s property and privacy. They are missing the forest for the trees.

Aug 19 2013

On This Day In History August 19

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.

August 19 is the 231st day of the year (232nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 134 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1909, the first race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, now the home of the world’s most famous motor racing competition, the Indianapolis 500.

The rectangular two-and-a-half-mile track linked four turns, each exactly 440 yards from start to finish, by two long and two short straight sections. In that first five-mile race on August 19, 1909, 12,000 spectators watched Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer win with an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour. The track’s surface of crushed rock and tar proved a disaster, breaking up in a number of places and causing the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators.

The surface was soon replaced with 3.2 million paving bricks, laid in a bed of sand and fixed with mortar. Dubbed “The Brickyard,” the speedway reopened in December 1909. In 1911, low attendance led the track’s owners to make a crucial decision: Instead of shorter races, they resolved to focus on a single, longer event each year, for a much larger prize. That May 30 marked the debut of the Indy 500–a grueling 500-mile race that was an immediate hit with audiences and drew press attention from all over the country. Driver Ray Haroun won the purse of $14,250, with an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Aug 19 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: One Reform, Indivisible

Recent political reporting suggests that Republican leaders are in a state of high anxiety, trapped between an angry base that still views Obamacare as the moral equivalent of slavery and the reality that health reform is the law of the land and is going to happen.

But those leaders don’t deserve any sympathy. For one thing, that irrational base is a Frankenstein monster of their own creation. Beyond that, everything I’ve seen indicates that members of the Republican elite still don’t get the basics of health reform – and that this lack of understanding is in the process of turning into a major political liability.

The New York Times Editorial Board: The Cash Committee

The House Financial Services Committee has grown so large that a highly unusual fourth row of seats had to be installed in the committee room. Every term, scores of members, particularly freshmen, demand a seat on the panel – not because they have a burning interest in regulating banks and Wall Street, but because they know that they will be able raise much more money if one of the 61 seats has their name on it.

As Eric Lipton recently explained in The Times, Financial Services has become known as “the cash committee” because interest groups donate more money to its members than to those of any other House committee. More than $10 million has been given to its members just this year, and most of it has come from the big names the committee oversees. Contributors included employees of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, the Credit Union National Association, the Investment Company Institute, Wells Fargo and many of the biggest accounting firms and insurance companies.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Don’t Get Complacent About Social Security. They Still Want to Cut It

In every successful struggle there’s a time to celebrate a hard-fought victory. When it comes to Social Security, this is not that time.

It’s true that, after including the “chained CPI” benefit cut in his latest budget, the president seems to have dropped the idea. And it’s true there’s no talk of a “Grand Bargain” on the horizon.  But it would still be a serious mistake to become complacent about Social Security.

Even now, in the August heat and summer doldrums, there are stirrings which suggest a deal could be on the way. Washington insiders report that meetings are being held to hammer it out. Republicans are now publicly backing the president’s proposed cuts.

Robert Kuttner: Our Ministry of Planning

The New York Times had a terrific Sunday article on a new waste-to-energy technology that could convert massive quantities of trash into synthetic natural gas. This technology, from isn’t perfect — the product is still a carbon fuel. But unlike hydro-fracking, it doesn’t destroy land and water supplies and it’s a lot cleaner than oil or coal. Earlier versions of such waste-to-energy systems have divided environmentalists, both because they are still carbon and because they use very high temperature incineration, which is frowned upon by many green advocates even when it is clean.

That controversy is all grist for a different article, however. What stood out for me in the Times piece was the client of the new technology — the U.S. Army. Next year, the producer, Sierra Energy, will be supplying waste-produced gas for a small military base in Monterrey, and, if all goes well, to larger installations.

Michael Winship: Cash and Congress: The Tie that Binds

That’s what former Rep. Steven LaTourette told National Journal the other day. He was quoted in an article that asked the question, “Is Congress Simply No Fun Anymore?”

No, it isn’t.

Not that it was ever a vacation trip to Busch Gardens (on his honeymoon, an ex-in-law of mine spent a day at that European-themed park in Virginia and came home convinced he’d actually been to six countries). And certainly no one truly misses the 19th century days when members of Congress thrashed other members with canes (although I can imagine the reality show any day now on The Learning Channel).

But seriously. “Although partisanship is an enduring part of American politics, the type of hyper-partisanship we see now – I can’t find a precedent for it in the past 100 years.” So sayeth Bill Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and co-founder of No Labels, which has herded 82 Democratic and Republican lawmakers into a “Problem Solvers Coalition.” Boy, is that ever the triumph of hope over experience.

Ralph Nader: Paul Volcker’s Latest Hurrah

When towering Paul Volcker speaks, people tend to listen. Formerly the no-nonsense chairman of the Federal Reserve, he proposed measures after the Wall Street crash of 2008 to deal with the “too big to fail” intimidations of the giant banks. With fewer gigantic banks after the Crash, Congress and Obama listened, in some measure, to his ideas for reforms and enacted the so-called Volcker amendment.

Now at age 85, Volcker has launched the Volcker Alliance to improve public administration and implementation of policies and by doing so advance the public interest to improve protections and services for the people. Public trust means more people will participate in governmental decisions and hold government officials responsive and accountable.

Aug 19 2013

Using the Hype-Loop to Understand the California HSR System

Cross-posted from its origin station at Voices on the Square

On Monday, entrepreneur Elon Musk launched on attack on the California HSR system in the guise of a pie in the sky alternative that he has dubbed the “Hyperloop”. Now, I got into this topic from the back end, since I waited for the technical people to download the PDF and chew into it before giving it a serious look, so when I first encountered the notion floated that this is just a car builder (well, an electric car builder) attacking a rival form of transport, I thought that might involve some shaky inference regarding motive for otherwise puzzling statements …

… but then I read the first paragraph of the blog post where he introduced the proposal, and there really isn’t any doubt:

When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world? Note, I am hedging my statement slightly by saying “one of”. The head of the California high speed rail project called me to complain that it wasn’t the very slowest bullet train nor the very most expensive per mile.

So this is explicitly a proposal from the guy who made big bucks on an internet payment system, Paypal, showing how the California HSR is old, outdated technology and if he wasn’t busy doing other things, why, he could give us an intercity transport system that would knock our socks off.