Daily Archive: 11/01/2013

Nov 01 2013

The Faces of Access ‘Journalism’

Of course we’ve known for years that Beltway Political ‘Journalism’ is all about stenography and who’s in your Rolodex.  It’s been portrayed with stunning accuracy in TV and Movies since at least Murphy Brown and was called out to its face by Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner-

Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

As Dan Froomkin said contemporaneously and presciently-

Once upon a time, I imagine, there was great value in throwing a party where journalists and politicians could mingle and shmooze and celebrate the things they have in common.

And indeed, if the press and this particular White House had an even moderately functional professional relationship, then a chance to build personal relationships would be a nice bonus.

But it’s not a functional professional relationship. From the president down to the freshest press office intern, this White House seems to delight in not answering even our most basic questions.

So the last thing in the world we need is a big party where the only appropriate mode of communication is sucking up.

Ideally, every chance we get to talk to these people, we should be pumping them for information. And ideally we would be consistent in expressing our frustration with them — not for personal reasons, not for partisan reasons, but because they’re making it nearly impossible for us to do our job, which is to inform the public on what’s going on in the White House and why.

The coziness of the dinner is a perfect example of what’s gone wrong with access journalism. What’s in it for the readers?

Here’s a very comprehensive recap by joanneleon of the reaction from 4/27/13.

But seldom do these shills and sycophants, these mindless mouthpieces proclaim their complicity as nakedly and thoroughly as they do in this piece today by what Charles Pierce of Esquire correctly calls Tiger Beat on the Potomac.

President Obama, off the record

By DYLAN BYERS, Politico

11/1/13 5:02 AM EDT

The president is a voracious consumer of opinion journalism. Most nights, before going to bed, he’ll surf the Internet, reading the columnists whose opinions he values. One of the great privileges of the presidency is that, when so inclined, he can invite these columnists to his home for meetings that can last as long as two-and-a-half hours.

“It’s not an accident who he invites: He reads the people that he thinks matter, and he really likes engaging those people,” said one reporter with knowledge of the meetings. “He reads people carefully – he has a columnist mentality – and he wants to win columnists over,” said another.



The off-the-record meetings are held over coffee around the long wooden conference table in the Roosevelt Room, just off the West Wing lobby. Participants vary depending on the issue of the day, but there are regulars.

People like David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Joe Klein, Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein, Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius, Jeffrey Goldberg, Thomas Friedman, Jonathan Chait, Wolf Blitzer, and Chuck Todd.

Think you should trust them to represent the interests of their readers, ask tough questions, or report the truth?  Read on.

The goal in these get-togethers, participants said, is two-fold: First, the president wants to convince the columnists that he’s right – about the debt ceiling, about health care, about Syria – and that his opponents are wrong.

“The president is thoroughly convinced that the course he has set out is correct, and that his opponents are either wrong-headed or crazy or, in the case of [House Speaker John] Boehner, insufficiently courageous,” said a journalist who has attended off-the-record meetings. “By getting together a group of intelligent people who are going to be writing about him or talking about him, he thinks he can show them how obviously everything he is doing makes sense.”

The second goal is more tactical: By meeting privately with the people who shape national opinion, the president ensures that his points of view will be represented in the media – even if those points of view aren’t directly attributable to him.



“He sees columnists as portals,” another journalist who has attended meetings said. “It works – I feel it work with me. It’s almost impossible to spend hours face-to-face with the president, unfiltered, then write a column or go on television without taking his point of view into account.”



Reading columnists or watching them on cable news after they’ve attended an off-the-record session at the White House thus becomes a form of tasseography. If you want to know where the president stands on a foreign policy issue, it is often said among Washington’s national security experts, read the latest column by David Ignatius.



Said a columnist who has attended multiple meetings, “When you can write your column with absolute surety, knowing that what you’re saying is a true reflection of what the President of the United States is thinking, how do you not do that?”



The modern practice of “off-the-record meetings,” however, was set in place by President Bill Clinton and his former press secretary, Mike McCurry.

In March of 1996, on a night-flight from Israel to Washington, McCurry came up with the concept of the “psych-background” session, in which reporters were not allowed to record, take notes, or directly attribute Clinton’s remarks – which, that night, ran to almost three hours. The point was simply to let reporters have a better sense of the president’s thinking.



The result, which even Clinton himself made fun of in his address at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner later that year, was that his remarks were attributed to an anonymous figure described as “the highest authority.” In the Washington Post, John Harris, now the editor-in-chief of POLITICO, wrote that McCurry had taken “the controversial Washington practice of anonymous sources and ‘background conversations’ to an unprecedented level.”



“I’m not going to deny that we hope this informs people’s reporting – the point is to have a good discussion, but also to deepen their understanding of our perspective,” the source familiar with the president’s thinking said.

Few columnists see an ethical problem in attending such “off the record” meetings, as they provide a greater understanding of the president’s thinking.



Both reporters and columnists believe he prefers talking to people who are thinking about – and willing to be influenced on – grand concepts, rather than those who might pepper him with questions about day-to-day events and process.



“The president cares a lot more about the opinions of Fred Hiatt or Tom Friedman than he does about the average U.S. Senator,” said one journalist. “He’s naturally predisposed to analysis. In his own mind, that’s what he is: he’s like us. He wants to be a writer, and so he likes to talk to writers.”

Nov 01 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 thea Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: A War on the Poor

John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, has done some surprising things lately. First, he did an end run around his state’s Legislature – controlled by his own party – to proceed with the federally funded expansion of Medicaid that is an important piece of Obamacare. Then, defending his action, he let loose on his political allies, declaring, “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”

Obviously Mr. Kasich isn’t the first to make this observation. But the fact that it’s coming from a Republican in good standing (although maybe not anymore), indeed someone who used to be known as a conservative firebrand, is telling. Republican hostility toward the poor and unfortunate has now reached such a fever pitch that the party doesn’t really stand for anything else – and only willfully blind observers can fail to see that reality.

The big question is why. But, first, let’s talk a bit more about what’s eating the right.

Dean Baker: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) stands at the top of the Obama administration’s trade agenda. The argument from its supporters is that this agreement is part of the never ending quest for freer trade. The evidence from what we know of this still secret pact is that the TPP has little to do with free trade. It can more accurately be described as a pact designed to increase the wealth and power of crony capitalists.

At this point, with few exceptions formal trade barriers, such as tariffs and quotas, are not very large. If lowering or eliminating the formal barriers that remain were the main agenda of this pact, there would be relatively little interest. Rather, the purpose of the pact is to use an international trade agreement to create a regulatory structure that is much more favorable to corporate interests than they would be able to get through the domestic political process in the United States and in the other countries in the pact.

New York Times Editorial Board: A Bad Ruling on Stop-and-Frisk

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was unwise to put a stay on the necessary remedies Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan ordered in August in response to the civil rights violations of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. And it overreached in taking the extraordinary step of removing Judge Scheindlin from the long-running litigation. [..]

Judge Scheindlin did not strike down the program, which, when properly used, is an important crime-fighting tool. But she sensibly ordered the city to use it in a manner that does not discriminate against minorities and that complied with constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers can legally detain people on the street when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. In addition to violating people’s rights, the program, as practiced for years in New York, undermined trust in the Police Department in black and Hispanic communities throughout the city.

Given all the damage done by this program, the next mayor should end this saga by withdrawing the city’s appeal and instituting the cogent reforms laid out by Judge Scheindlin.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Confirm Mel Watt Now

The Senate’s role in presidential nominations is usually described as “advise and consent,” not “obstruct and prevent.” And yet, continuing their extreme break with past Senatorial traditions and practice, Senate Republicans rejected another Presidential nomination on Thursday. Even so-called “moderate” Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine turned their back on civility and good government by refusing to break a filibuster against Rep. Mel Watt’s nomination to head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The President has chosen Rep. Watt to replace Bush appointee Edward DeMarco at the FHFA, and Republicans are refusing to even allow a vote on his nomination. The FHFA is responsible for lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the government was forced to bail out after the privatization of these enterprises turned out to be a disaster. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Republicans are afraid that Rep. Watt might “take more aggressive steps to help the housing market, such as reducing principal on mortgages.”

That would cut into Wall Street’s profits. As the old saying goes: Follow the money.

Nan Aron: Republicans’ D.C. Circuit Freak-out Endangers Justice

On Tuesday, I testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that posed the nonsensical question, “Are More Judges Always the Answer?”

This is a committee whose Republican members include Darrell Issa, Steve King, and Louie Gohmert, so it will come as no shock to anyone that a topic that sounds like a segment on a Fox News show was not designed to dispassionately explore the nuances of judicial nominations and the workloads of federal judges.

So what was this hearing really about?

It turns out it was actually about President Obama’s nomination of three highly qualified individuals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the court right below the Supreme Court in importance. You might ask why the House of Representatives is conducting a hearing on a subject that is the constitutional purview of the Senate, but the future of the D.C. Circuit is so important that it’s getting the full right-wing, high-volume Sturm und Drang treatment, even in places it doesn’t belong.

William Pfaff: Spying Scandal Makes Clear That Europe Must Declare Independence

The crisis caused in Europe by American intelligence interceptions of its allies’ electronic communications derives from a problem Europeans have known and put up with since the Second World War. The time has come to call a halt.

It can only be solved with drastic actions that assert European sovereignty and a salutary shock of defiance to longstanding American presumptions of international impunity and repeated acts in disregard of international law, as well as of commercial and diplomatic convention and tradition.

This problem is America’s asserted domination-active or implicit/potential-over West European affairs.

Nov 01 2013

On This Day In History November 1

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 1 is the 305th day of the year (306th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 60 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, one of Italian artist Michelangelo’s finest works, is exhibited to the public for the first time.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 to repaint the vault, or ceiling, of the Chapel. It was originally painted as golden stars on a blue sky. The work was completed between 1508 and 2 November 1512. He painted the Last Judgment over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, on commission from Pope Paul III Farnese.

Michelangelo was intimidated by the scale of the commission, and made it known from the outset of Julius II’s approach that he would prefer to decline. He felt he was more of a sculptor than a painter, and was suspicious that such a large-scale project was being offered to him by enemies as a set-up for an inevitable fall. For Michelangelo, the project was a distraction from the major marble sculpture that had preoccupied him for the previous few years.To be able to reach the ceiling, Michelangelo needed a support; the first idea was by Julius’ favoured architect Donato Bramante, who wanted to build for him a scaffold to be suspended in the air with ropes. However, Bramante did not successfully complete the task, and the structure he built was flawed. He had perforated the vault in order to lower strings to secure the scaffold. Michelangelo laughed when he saw the structure, and believed it would leave holes in the ceiling once the work was ended. He asked Bramante what was to happen when the painter reached the perforations, but the architect had no answer.

The matter was taken before the Pope, who ordered Michelangelo to build a scaffold of his own. Michelangelo created a flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall, high up near the top of the windows. He stood on this scaffolding while he painted.

Michelangelo used bright colours, easily visible from the floor. On the lowest part of the ceiling he painted the ancestors of Christ. Above this he alternated male and female prophets, with Jonah over the altar. On the highest section, Michelangelo painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis. He was originally commissioned to paint only 12 figures, the Apostles. He turned down the commission because he saw himself as a sculptor, not a painter. The Pope offered to allow Michelangelo to paint biblical scenes of his own choice as a compromise. After the work was finished, there were more than 300. His figures showed the creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood.

Nov 01 2013

Justice?

Nobody Should Shed a Tear for JP Morgan Chase

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: October 25, 1:05 PM ET

Look, there’s no denying that this is a lot of money. It’s the biggest settlement in the history of government settlements, and it’s just one company to boot. But this has been in the works for a long time, and it’s been in the works for a reason. This whole thing, lest anyone forget, has its genesis in a couple of state Attorneys General (including New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden) not wanting to sign off on any deal with the banks that didn’t also address the root causes of the crisis, in particular the mass fraud surrounding the sale and production of subprime mortgage securities.

Those holdouts essentially forced the federal government’s hand, leading Barack Obama to create a federal working group on residential mortgage-backed securities (widely seen as the AGs’ price for okaying the $25 billion robosigning deal), headed up by Schneiderman, whose investigation of Chase and its affiliates led to the deal that’s about to be struck. Minus all of that, minus those state holdouts in those foreclosure negotiations, this settlement probably would never even take place: The federal government seemed more than willing previously to settle with the banks without even addressing the root-cause issues that are at the heart of this new Chase deal.



In fact, this deal is actually quite a gift to Chase. It sounds like a lot of money, but there are myriad deceptions behind the sensational headline.

First of all, the settlement, as the folks at Better Markets have pointed out, may wipe out between $100 billion and $200 billion in potential liability – meaning that the bank might just have settled “for ten cents or so on the dollar.” The Federal Housing Finance Agency alone was suing Chase and its affiliates for $33 billion. The trustee in the ongoing Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal was suing Chase for upwards of $19 billion.



And remember, this sort of liability was basically the only risk Chase took in these deals. The government took on most of the rest, in order to make the acquisitions happen.

Chase got to buy Bear Stearns with $29 billion in Fed guarantees, with the state setting up a special bailout facility, Maiden Lane, to unwind all of the phony-baloney loans created through Bear’s Ponzi-mortgage-mechanism described above. So Chase got to acquire one of the world’s biggest investment banks for pennies on the dollar, and then got the Fed to buy up all the toxic parts of the bank’s portfolio, essentially making the public the involuntary customer of Bear’s criminal inventory.

Later on, Chase took $25 billion in TARP money, bought Washington Mutual and its $33 billion in assets for the fire-sale price of $1.9 billion, and then repeated the Bear scenario, getting another Maiden Lane facility to take on the deadliest parts of Washington Mutual’s portfolio (including, for instance, a pool of mortgages in which 94 percent of the loans had limited documentation).



Moreover, the settlement is only $9 billion in cash, with $4 billion earmarked for “mortgage relief.” Again, as Better Markets noted, we’ve seen settlements with orders of mortgage relief before, and banks seem to have many canny ways of getting out of the spirit of these requirements.

In the foreclosure settlement, most of the ordered “relief” eventually came in the form of short sales, with banks letting people sell their underwater houses and move out without paying for the loss in home value. That’s better than nothing, but it’s something very different than a bank working to help families stay in their homes.

There’s also the matter of the remaining $9 billion in fines being tax deductible (meaning we’re subsidizing the settlement), and the fact that Chase is reportedly trying to get the FDIC to assume some of Washington Mutual’s liability.



A few more notes on the deal. This latest settlement reportedly came about when CEO Jamie Dimon picked up the phone and called a high-ranking lieutenant of Attorney General Holder, who was about to hold a press conference announcing civil charges against the bank. The Justice Department meekly took the call, canceled the presser, and worked out this hideous deal, instead of doing the right thing and blowing off the self-important Wall Street hotshot long used to resolving meddlesome issues with the gift of his personal attention.

Only on Wall Street does the target of a massive federal investigation pick up the telephone and call up the prosecutor expecting to make the thing go away – and only in recent American history would such a tactic actually work.



These guys at Chase knew exactly what they were buying when they took on these companies. They just thought they were getting the deal of the century, by taking on the still-functioning businesses of two finance giants for a song, giving Chase a state-subsidized push into the pole position of American banking. And they figured, very nearly correctly, that they would never have to pay any serious freight for all the offenses committed by their new acquisitions.

Now they’ll have to write a big check, which sucks for them, but what about the victims? To those critics crying about a “shakedown”: Would you prefer that Chase merely be required to pay back every dollar to those investors wiped out by these schemes? Because that would be a hell of a lot more than $13 billion.

Nov 01 2013

“We Don’t Have a Domestic Spying Program”

We don’t have a domestic spying program.” That was the statement made by President Barack Obama on the “Jay Leno Show” on August 6, 2013 in the aftermath of the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden. We know now that there was no truth in that. We know, through the NSA program called “PRISM,” the NSA had been collecting internet data since 2007, including encrypted communications, from the tech giants, such as Google, Yahoo and Verizon, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. That’s the one that Obama said he would filibuster, then voted for with the promise of fixing it later.

The latest revelation is the NSA went beyond PRISM’s front door approach and behind the back of Google and Yahooo to infiltrate links to their data centers world wide. This newest document from Edward Snowden’s stash of NSA files exposed a program called MUSCULAR that was jointly operated with the NSA’s British counterpart, GCHQ. As it was reported by  Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani at The Washington Post, through this program they secretly broke into the main communication links that connect Yahoo and Google around the world enabling them to “collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans.

According to a top-secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, the NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from internal Yahoo and Google networks to data warehouses at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records – including “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, as well as content such as text, audio and video.

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters . From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and the GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information among the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants. [..]

Intercepting communications overseas has clear advantages for the NSA, with looser restrictions and less oversight. NSA documents about the effort refer directly to “full take,” “bulk access” and “high volume” operations on Yahoo and Google networks. Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.

Outside U.S. territory, statutory restrictions on surveillance seldom apply and the FISC has no jurisdiction. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has acknowledged that Congress conducts little oversight of intelligence-gathering under the presidential authority of Executive Order 12333, which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies.

Needless to say the news that the NSA can collect information sent by fibre optic cable between the two tech giants infuriated them:

In a statement, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company was “outraged” by the latest revelations.

“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide,” he said.

“We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”

Yahoo said: “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”

It was this slide from the NSA presentation on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” that caused two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing.

NSA Infiltrates Yahoo Google photo GOOGLE-CLOUD-EXPLOITATION1383148810_zpsbdce47a5.jpg

Click on image to enlarge.

The tech giants are now calling for real reforms of the NSA. In a letter sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), they called for passage of the USA Freedom Act  a bill sponsored by Democrat senator Patrick Leahy and Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner that would end the bulk collection of data from millions of Americans and set up a privacy advocate to monitor the Fisa court, which oversees the NSA’s US activities.

“Recent disclosures regarding surveillance activity raise important concerns in the United States and abroad. The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions,” the letter states.

“Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific.

“Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government’s authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive,” they write. [..]

“We urge the administration to work with Congress in addressing these critical reforms that would provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world,” the letter said.

The lack of credibility that this administration and congress has on this issue is eclipsed only by the enormity of the Grand Canyon. The sham House Intelligence Committee led by chief NSA apologist Rep. Mike Rogers featured inveterate liars NSA boss General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, along with  Deputy Attorney General James Cole and number 2 guy at NSA Chris Inglis who were tossed easy questions. When push back from Democratic committee members came, Rogers interrupted, incredibly suggesting that they should just shut up if they’re going to say they weren’t informed:

(Rep. Adam) Schiff quite reasonably, appeared to take offense to this, and challenged Rogers, asking for more details as to when and how the Committee was told about spying on foreign leaders. Rogers without actually answering the question kept “warning” other members not to say something about this. Schiff broke in again (with Rogers trying to stop him from talking) to ask if the Committee was directly informed about this or if it was just a giant data dump of information that he would have had to go through carefully to find out who they were spying on. Rogers again refused to answer the question, and again hinted that those who put in the “effort” would have known about this — and then flat out cut off Schiff [..]

So we are now supposed to trust the liars?

 

Nov 01 2013

A Witch’s New Year

Come sing and dance around the fires. Give thanks for the Summer’s bounties. Remember those who have passed through the veil from our presence but not our hearts.

Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns.