Daily Archive: 12/16/2013

Dec 16 2013

Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Program Possibly Unconstitutional

In response to a lawsuit filed by an activist in June against the NSA’s massive collection of private phone data, a federal judge ruled that the program is possibly a violation of the Fourth Amendment but fell short of ordering the program shut down.

udge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of so-called metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, relating to unreasonable searches and seizures, and is “almost Orwellian” in its scope.

He also expressed doubt about the central rationale for the program cited by the NSA: that it is necessary for preventing terrorist attacks. “The government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,” wrote Leon, a US district judge in the District of Columbia. [..]

Leon, an appointee of George W Bush, granted a preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, concluding that their constitutional challenge was likely to be successful. In what was the only comfort to the NSA in a stinging judgment, he put the ruling on hold, pending an appeal by the government.

But Leon’s opinion contained stern and repeated warnings that he was inclined to rule that the metadata collection performed by the NSA – and defended vigorously by the NSA director Keith Alexander on CBS on Sunday night – was unconstitutional.

D.C. District Court NSA Opinion

Glenn Greenwald weighed in on this on MSNBC’s 4 PM program and there was a discussion with a former Obama administration DOJ lawyer and a spokesperson for the ACLU. If the video becomes available, I’ll add it.

Dec 16 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: Why Inequality Matters

Rising inequality isn’t a new concern. Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street,” with its portrayal of a rising plutocracy insisting that greed is good, was released in 1987. But politicians, intimidated by cries of “class warfare,” have shied away from making a major issue out of the ever-growing gap between the rich and the rest.

That may, however, be changing. We can argue about the significance of Bill de Blasio’s victory in the New York mayoral race or of Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement of Social Security expansion. And we have yet to see whether President Obama’s declaration that inequality is “the defining challenge of our age” will translate into policy changes. Still, the discussion has shifted enough to produce a backlash from pundits arguing that inequality isn’t that big a deal.

They’re wrong.  [..]

First of all, even if you look only at the direct impact of rising inequality on middle-class Americans, it is indeed a very big deal. Beyond that, inequality probably played an important role in creating our economic mess, and has played a crucial role in our failure to clean it up.

Robert Kuttner: Needed: Freedom Summer 2014

For more than a decade, progressive Democrats have placed their hopes on demographic changes. The electorate is becoming blacker, browner, younger, and more welcoming of diverse immigrant groups — people who tend to be more liberal on a broad range of social issues, people who also rely on affirmative government.

Serious political scientists such as Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, among others, have written numerous well-documented articles and books on this emerging progressive majority. All it will take is for Democrats to survive mishaps such as the recession and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act — and Republican views will increasingly be the minority. [..]

But these projections of demography-as-destiny left out one detail — increased voter suppression. The emerging electorate will produce reliable Democratic majorities only if people in these demographic groups, many of them poor, are able to vote.

Robert Reich: When Charity Begins at Home (Particularly the Homes of the Wealthy)

It’s charity time, and not just because the holiday season reminds us to be charitable. As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons.

America’s wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share.

The generosity of the super-rich is sometimes proffered as evidence they’re contributing as much to the nation’s well-being as they did decades ago when they paid a much larger share of their earnings in taxes. Think again. [..]

But a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters – where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors.

Another portion is for contributions to the elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend.

Rebecca Peters: When will the US learn from Australia? Stricter gun control laws save lives

After our own mass murder, Australia didn’t ban guns, but we passed stronger regulations. Gun deaths dropped dramatically

Every country is unique, but Australia is more similar to the US than is, say, Japan or England. We have a frontier history and a strong gun culture. Each state and territory has its own gun laws, and in 1996 these varied widely between the jurisdictions. At that time Australia’s firearm mortality rate per population was 2.6/100,000 – about one-quarter the US rate (pdf), according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the US Center for Disease Control. Today the rate is under 1/100,000 – less than one-tenth the US rate (pdf). Those figures refer to all gun deaths – homicide, suicide and unintentional. If we focus on gun homicide rates, the US outstrips Australia 30-fold.

The 1996 reforms made gun laws stronger and uniform across Australia. Semi-automatic rifles were prohibited (with narrow exceptions), and the world’s biggest buyback saw nearly 700,000 guns removed from circulation and destroyed. The licensing and registration systems of all states and territories were harmonised and linked, so that a person barred from owning guns in one state can no longer acquire them in another. All gun sales are subject to screening (universal background checks), which means you cannot buy a gun over the internet or at a garage sale. [..]

Australia didn’t ban guns. Hunting and shooting are still thriving. But by adopting laws that give priority to public safety, we have saved thousands of lives.

Ralph Nader: The Wild and Cruel Gap Between Debtors and Creditors

The word “inequality” is much in vogue these days. We hear almost daily about the inequality of wealth, income and wages between the richest top 2 or 3 percent of people and the majority of the country’s wage earners. But not attention is given and not many marches and other protests are addressing the huge inequalities between creditors and debtors.

Of course the aforementioned inequalities, especially of wages and income, worsen the plight of individual debtors. One more distinction needs to be made – that between corporate debtors who receive many favored legal entitlements (even in bankruptcy) and individual debtors who are slammed and harassed by debt collectors.

Dec 16 2013

Right Between The Eyes Open Thread. I Mean Open Season.

Dec 16 2013

On This Day In History December 16

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.

December 16 is the 350th day of the year (351st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 15 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water.

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea coming into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protestors would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston’s commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

Dec 16 2013

Readin’, Ritin’, ‘n Rithmetic

How many of these questions can you answer without googling?

• Through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?

• How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?

• How long of a rope is required to reach from the top of a building 40 feet high to the ground 30 feet from the base of a building?

• Compare arteries and veins as to function. Where is the blood carried to be purified?

• During which wars were the following battles fought: Brandywine, Great Meadows, Lundy’s Lane, Antietam, Buena Vista?

Eighth Grade Exam From 1912 Shows How Dumbed Down America Has Become

Have you ever seen the movie “Idiocracy”?  It is a movie about an “average American” that wakes up 500 years in the future only to discover that he is the most intelligent person by far in the “dumbed down” society that is surrounding him.  Unfortunately, that film is a very accurate metaphor for what has happened to American society today.  We have become so “dumbed down” that we don’t even realize what has happened to us.  But once in a while something comes along that reminds us of how far we have fallen.

In Kentucky, an eighth grade exam from 1912 was recently donated to the Bullitt County History Museum.

Dec 16 2013

Monday Night Special

Dec 16 2013

Monday Nigjt Special

Dec 16 2013

Funding models, Glenn Greenwald, Omidyar, and tinfoil hats

(Reposted with permission. ek)

by lambert at corrente

Sun, 12/15/2013 – 5:35pm

On The Greenwald Question:

It is true that the “left” (for some definition of left that would include Greenwald’s civil liberties work, even if under the aegis of strange bedfellows) has struggled with a funding model. If Corrente were 10 times its size (with concomitant increase in size for similar blogs) that would make, I’m convinced on no evidence at all, a big difference in the discourse.

Hitherto, a reader support model — though reasonably free from conflict of interest, i.e. buying into the bullshit — has enabled survival but not growth. I don’t know why.

Another model is to become Kos or TPM or ThinkProgress, and to be funded by the Democratic nomenklatura. So here we have conflicts of interest. (“Who kidnapped Josh Marshall”?)

Another model is advertising, selling eyeballs (which, to be fair, Naked Capitalism does, in addition to reader support). At scale, and IMNSHO NC is not at scale, we have potential for a different sort of conflict.

And another model is finding a patron, which is what Hamsher did, CJR does (Soros, IIRC), and now Greenwald has done. A different sort of conflict. (Marx, we might remember, was funded by Engels, a Manchester factory owner.)

So what model do you use if you want to get a story out?

I find it hard to fault Greenwald on ethical grounds, especially if he got some up front “Fuck you” money from Omidyar. (I haven’t been following the ins and outs, and it may be that Greenwald has disqualified himself on other grounds in his various defense of himself.) If Greenwald doesn’t ruin his personal brand, he’s free to walk away. For some definition of “free.”

However, I’m not sure the funding model is the story. Let me now put on my tinfoil hat:

Call me foily, but if I were a really astute right wing billionaire who thought long term, and who wanted a lot more leverage over the government than I already had, I’d:

  1. Get a technically astute and ideologically aligned mole into the NSA;
  2. Have them steal a lot of extremely incriminating data;
  3. Dole just enough out to the press to show what I had;
  4. Keep the great bulk of it as a “fleet in being,” as it were.

I’ve also considered the idea that Snowden was the tool of an NSA faction that didn’t like the rampant illegality; that could combine with #1.

GG comes in at #3, and as an archivist/researcher in #4. He doesn’t even have to know.

I know this reads rather like a real-life late William Gibson novel, with Omidyar in the role of Hubertus Bigend, and “the data” as the McGuffin, but real life these days resembles a Gibson novel, except more convoluted, darker, and with even nastier villains.

I had always had this way of thinking in the back of my mind, but this story really brought it to the forefront for me:

   Officials Say U.S. May Never Know Extent of Snowden’s Leaks

That story reads very much like normalizing the situation to me.

So, Omidyar becomes a sort of data-driven sovereign, with informational nukes. Of course, that would imply that the tippy top global ruling class runs on blackmail, but then you knew that.

Readers?

Dec 16 2013

Sunday Train: A Vision for Rail in Sustainable 21st Century Transport

I’m flat out, finishing one and working on another of my two biggest projects for the end of the year ~ the one that I’m finishing has a drop dead deadline of Monday, but I’m hoping to finish it and send it off sometime late tonight ~ and grading and all of the other five-times-a-year term-end rush of work, so I don’t have time to sit down for my normal most-of-Sunday-afternoon to compose a regular Sunday Train.

However, fear not. Instead of my regular Sunday Train, I am going to present a draft of a contribution I am working on for a longer white paper that involves the Steel Interstate investment that our country needs to be making in electrified, long-haul freight transport. Longer time readers of the Sunday Train may expect to see familiar themes covered in this draft.

If you have any comments, constructive criticism (or even, I guess, non-constructive criticism) I would be happy to hear it. And, of course, you may always raise any issue in Sustainable Energy and Transport that may come to your mind.

Dec 16 2013

In Memoriam: Peter O’Toole 1932 – 2013

Peter O’Toole 2 August 1932 – 14 December 2013

Peter O'Toole 1932 - 2013 photo Peter_O27Toole_--_LOA_trailer_zps80a2f910.jpg Peter Seamus Lorcan O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose magnetic performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and put him on the road to becoming one of his generation’s most accomplished and charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.

His daughter Kate O’Toole said in a statement that he had been ill for some time.

A blond, blue-eyed six-footer, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man, – and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T. E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East in World War I.

The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the ’60s and early ’70s. In the theater – he was a classically trained actor – he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket,” (1964), then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter” (1968). Both earned Oscar nominations for Best Actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in 1970 and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class” in 1973.  Mr. O’Toole threw himself wholeheartedly into what he called “bravura acting,” courting and sometimes deserving the accusation that he became over-theatrical, mannered, even hammy. His lanky, loose-jointed build; his eyes; his long, lantern-jawed face; his oddly languorous sexual charm; and the eccentric loops and whoops of his voice tended to reinforce the impression of power and extravagance.

Burton called him “the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war,” with “something odd, mystical and deeply disturbing” in his work. [..]

He is survived by daughters, Kate and Patricia, and son, Lorcan.

At the start of both videos the screen is blank during the orchestral introduction and intermission.