04/15/2015 archive

The End of 215?

We can only hope.

NSA and FBI fight to retain spy powers as surveillance law nears expiration

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Wednesday 15 April 2015 07.15 EDT

Section 215 is the authority claimed by the NSA since 2006 for its ongoing daily bulk collection of US phone records revealed by the Guardian in 2013 thanks to leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. While the Obama administration and US intelligence agencies last year supported divesting the NSA of its domestic phone metadata collection, a bill to do so failed in November.

Yet with Section 215’s lifespan now stretching to a matter of weeks, supporters of broad surveillance powers have yet to put forth a bill for their preservation – evidence, opponents believe, that the votes for reauthorization do not exist, particularly not in the House of Representatives.

More likely, according to a multiple Hill sources, is a different option under consideration: making the major NSA reform bill of the last Congress the point of departure for reauthorizing 215 in the current one.

That bill, the USA Freedom Act, passed the House in May 2014 before narrowly failing in November in the Senate. Belatedly, the White House endorsed it, after seeing it had a greater chance of passage than any pro-NSA alternative. Yet the House version lost substantial civil-libertarian support after the intelligence agencies and House leadership weakened its surveillance restrictions, including its central prohibition on the bulk collection of domestic phone records.

Advocates of the bill in both congressional chambers, including its original architects, have been laboring for eight weeks in marathon negotiations to revive the USA Freedom Act. The revived bill would extend the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for a still-undetermined number of years – essentially staking out the center of the 2015-era surveillance debate for a bill that would take NSA out of the domestic bulk-collection business.

Advocates believe they are close enough to agreement that reintroduction could come as early as Thursday and would move through the judiciary committees.

But several privacy activists inside and outside Congress consider the USA Freedom Act insufficient.

The bill would not abridge NSA collection of Americans’ international communications, nor prevent the NSA or the FBI from warrantlessly searching through its troves of them for Americans’ identifying information. Nor would it restrict a constellation of surveillance efforts authorized by a Reagan-era executive order. Even a recently disclosed bulk domestic phone records collection dragnet by the Drug Enforcement Agency would be untouched.

“We should be demanding more reforms than the intelligence agencies are gladly willing to offer us,” said David Segal of the activist group Demand Progress.

“A lot of it is going to hinge on the freshmen. Right now, as far as I can tell, the select intelligence committee is making a real strong play to persuade the freshmen that all of these public concerns are overblown,” Massie said.

Why You Shouldn’t Hate the IRS Even If It’s Tax Day

About now there are hundreds of thousands of people hunched over their computers, sitting with tax preparers, searching through files and boxes of receipts, standing on a line or hanging on hold waiting to ask a question which may not have answer or, at least, one they will like. It’s Tax Day in America.

Everyone hates the IRS but it’s not their fault, as John Oliver explained on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” Blame congress for the recent budget and staff cuts have made it increasingly difficult for the department to do its very important job.

Think of our government as a body. The IRS is the anus. It’s nobody’s favorite part, but you need that thing working properly or everything goes to shit real quick. [..]

The fact is, blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is a bit like slapping your check-out clerk because the price of eggs has gone up

Humor and History on Tax Day

Joel Fox, Fox and Hounds

“April is the month when the green returns to the lawn, the trees, – and the Internal Revenue Service.” So observed Evan Esar, a collector of humorous sayings who understood that humor is the ultimate therapy. All of us need this therapy now that tax time is here.

Fortunately, a rich vein of humor and wry observations exist about taxes to help us through this time.

When tax day comes, most citizens pay what they owe … or what they think they owe. Discovering what you owe can be a challenge. Even one of the century’s greatest geniuses, Albert Einstein said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”

Humorist Will Rogers put it this way: “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make a tax form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr.”

So, grin and bear it, “You never miss your anus till it’s gone.”

Dispatches From Hellpeckersville-Milestones and Memorials

Tonight will be a short post, but meaningful to me, and anyone who knew Edger. With his memorial coming up, and our group growing by leaps and bounds I just wanted to take a moment to reflect.

I wonder if you knew your reach, my friend. I like to think you did, I like to think you know still, that you can see all the people you never met, but still affected, who miss you terribly.

I’m left to imagine what you would have said as the Snowden doc won the Oscar, or after the John Oliver interview, and I miss your dry wit in the group. And I know I’m far from alone in missing that.

Most of all, as we hit the milestone of 15 thousand members, I hope that you’d be proud of the job we’re doing, me and your friends who stepped up to help after the devastating loss of you.

I’ll end by saying thank you, Edger, for everything, but more than anything, what you always said to me: thank you for being you.

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.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Amy B. Dean: Time for a moratorium on charter schools

Charters have failed to deliver, and their expansion should be put on hold

Charter schools are everywhere. Not long ago, these publicly funded but privately run institutions were a relative rarity. Those that existed served mostly as experimental academies whose successful lessons could be applied elsewhere in their host school districts. But in the last 15 years, swaths of the U.S. public education system have been turned over to charters. In fact, they are being used as a means to crush teachers’ unions and to pursue high-stakes testing.

Charter advocates justify this ascent by promising an antidote to the disappointing outcomes of traditional public schools in segregated and underfunded urban districts. But the research is in: Charter schools have failed to deliver on their promises.

It is time lawmakers freeze their growth and consider how to provide the best education possible for all students.

Bryce Covert: Education Alone Won’t Put an End to Equal Pay Days

Today is Equal Pay Day, the dismal holiday where women celebrate the fact that, on average, their earnings have caught up to what men made in one year last year, given that when they work full-time, year-round they make just 78 percent of what men make. [..]

But some think change is coming faster than that. They base this hope on the fact that today’s young women are getting college degrees at a faster pace than today’s young men. Given that a college degree represents a more than $400 earnings premium every week over that of a high school graduate, that extra money should, they reason, help women earn their way out of the gap.

But while education may boost earnings for each college-educated woman over her less educated sister, that doesn’t put her on better, or even equal, footing with a similarly educated brother. The gender wage gap still shows up at every education level (pdf).

Elizabeth Goitein, Faiza Patel: The Patriot Act’s Sunset is the Perfect Chance to Make the FISA Court More Like a Real Court

In the coming weeks, Congress must decide whether to renew the Patriot Act, which the National Security Agency (NSA) uses to collect Americans’ telephone records in bulk, regardless of whether they are suspected of any criminal or terrorist activity. These records can tell the government a lot about our private lives – whether we called a psychiatrist or a gun dealer, for example – and the debate likely will focus on how to protect Americans’ right to privacy against unwarranted intrusions. But there is another important issue at stake in the run up to the Patriot Act’s sunset: the role of the foreign intelligence surveillance court that supervises NSA programs.

Like the president and Congress, courts have limits on their authority. Under the Constitution, our courts don’t give advice – they decide concrete disputes. In practical terms, that generally means there must be at least two parties present in court, and they must disagree over the lawfulness of particular actions that one or more of them has taken.

Anna Lappé: The long, dirty trail of fake science

Revealing Big Oil’s role in climate change denialism

Doubt is our product,” (pdf) wrote executives for tobacco giant Brown & Williamson in a now infamous 1969 memo on industry communications strategy. The memo was revealed during discovery in class-action lawsuits against tobacco companies that would eventually yield a trove of 85 million pages. Among those pages are details about the public relations playbook of an industry that – as far back as 1958 – knew that smoking caused cancer and used public relations to fight regulation for decades.

Merchants of Doubt,” a brilliant new film from documentarian Robert Kenner (of “Food Inc.” fame), reveals this spin and tracks how other industries, from chemical manufacturers to pharmaceuticals, are ripping pages from Big Tobacco’s playbook to fight their own regulation and public scrutiny.

Based on the book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, the film reveals, in particular, Big Oil’s role in climate change denialism. It makes the argument that the world’s biggest energy companies funded PR and lobbying firms that fomented doubt about climate science and thereby stalled action on climate policy. The film pulls back the curtain on the backstage battle to win the hearts and minds of the American public, with nothing short of a stable climate in the balance.

Michelle Chen: Can Labor Bring Wall Street Back to Main Street?

The 2007 banking collapse exposed the abysmal gap between the titans of finance and the 99 percent. But long ago, there was one place where Wall Street and Main Street intersected: at the teller window of your local retail bank. Some community activists want to pull Wall Street back toward an era when banking was done by real people, and retail banks invested in the neighborhood instead of pushing consumers into foreclosure. Can we bring back your friendly bank teller?

Seven years since Wall Street imploded, it seems the banking sector has rebounded far faster than the communities it has devastated, according to a report published by Center for Popular Democracy (pdf) (CPD), which builds on a global campaign to advocate for fair labor and corporate accountability in Big Banks.

The report finds that poor communities tend to be both underbanked and overexploited by banks. Though lenders no longer give away subprime mortgages like candy, bank chains still degrade vulnerable consumers. Roughly a quarter of households nationwide are considered unbanked or underbanked, lacking access to basic financial resources like a checking account. Big Banks instead market relatively high-risk financial products to the poor, while ignoring the essential economic vehicles that help build assets prudently and realistically. Despite their relatively paltry wealth, among the hardest hit by the financial collapse were low-income communities of color. “The median net worth for people of color fell 53 percent during the Great Recession [but] for whites fell only 16 percent,” CPD reports. But today the leading Big Banks have ironically “emerged stronger and more consolidated, rather than being fundamentally restructured.”

Jessica Valenti: Dealing with trolls will make young women sympathetic to Hillary Clinton

When I visit college campuses, young women always ask me how I deal with negativity online – and how they can. How can I write and participate on social media when it inevitably results in ad hominem attacks and vitriol? The students I speak to increasingly feel like they have to consider, before choosing a career path or posting an opinion in a public forum, whether they can cope with violently sexist responses and a never-ending barrage of misogynistic bullshit.

If anyone knows the answer to their questions, it’s Hillary Clinton. Her career has long epitomized how misogyny can haunts female politicians: the Hillary “nutcracker”, the pokes about her headbands, her hair, her pantsuits, her voice. She has too often been the target of insults based on men’s fear about powerful women – an unenviable position that few can understand. [..]

Clearly there is more to winning over young female voters than commiserating over sexist awfulness and advice on overcoming misogyny. But I’m betting there’s a deep-seated desire in a lot of young women to see sexist tormentors get theirs. Maybe they can’t stop the guy who tweets fat jokes at them, and maybe they’re too embarrassed to report the anonymous sexual threats in their Facebook messages. But what they can do is give a big “fuck you” to every get-back-in-the-kitchen YouTube bottom-dweller or cable news host jerk who mocks Clinton’s appearance by making their distaste known at the voting booth.

Then we’ll see who is making the sammiches. I’ll take an Italian sub.

The Breakfast Club (Lovin’ Eyes Can Never See)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

The Titanic sinks off the coast of Newfoundland; President Abraham Lincoln dies; Jackie Robinson becomes first African American player in MLB; US launches air raid against Libya; Pol Pot dies; Joey Ramone dies.

Breakfast Tunes

Percy Sledge 1940 – 2015

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

On This Day In History April 15

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.

April 15 is the 105th day of the year (106th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 260 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1912, Molly Brown avoids sinking with the Titanic

A 20th century version of the strong and resourceful women of the Wild West, Molly Brown wins lasting fame by surviving the sinking of the Titanic.

Margaret Brown (nèe Tobin) (July 18, 1867 – October 26, 1932) was an American socialite, philanthropist, and activist who became famous due to her involvement with the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, after exhorting the crew of lifeboat 6 to return to look for survivors. It is unclear whether any survivors were found after life boat 6 returned to search. She became known after her death as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, although she was not called Molly during her life. Her friends called her Maggie.

Born Margaret Tobin in Hannibal, Missouri, one of four children born to Irish immigrants John Tobin (1820-1899) and Johanna Collins (1825-1905). Her siblings were Daniel (born 1863), William (born 1869), and Helen (born 1871). Added to these, Margaret had two half-sisters: Catherine Bridget Tobin, by her father’s first marriage, and Mary Ann Collins, by her mother’s first marriage. Both her mother and father had been widowed young.

At age 18, Margaret relocated to Leadville, Colorado with her sister, and got a job in a department store. It was here she met and married James Joseph Brown (1854-1922), nicknamed J.J., an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland. Brown had always planned to marry a rich man but she married J.J. for love. She said,

   I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.

Margaret and J.J. were married in Leadville’s Annunciation Church on September 1, 1886. The Browns had two children.

The family acquired great wealth when J.J.’s engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny mine of his employers, Ibex Mining Company, and he was awarded 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board.

In Leadville, Margaret first became involved with the women’s suffrage issue, helping to establish the Colorado chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and working in soup kitchens to assist miners’ families.

During 1894, the Browns moved to Denver, Colorado, which gave the family more social opportunities. Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman’s Club, whose mission was the improvement of women’s lives by continuing education and philanthropy. During 1901, she was one of the first students to enroll at the Carnegie Institute in New York. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Brown became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in the French, German, and Russian languages. During 1909 she advertised herself as campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Margaret assisted in the fundraising for Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed during 1911. Margaret worked with Judge Lindsey to help destitute children and establish the United States’ first juvenile court which helped form the basis of the modern U.S. juvenile courts system.

Margaret campaigned for Senate again during 1914 but stopped when her sister Helen married a German baron, with Margaret believing that the union would have made a successful campaign impossible.

By the time Margaret Tobin Brown boarded Titanic at Cherbourg, France, she had already made a significant impact in the world. She and her daughter Helen, who was a student at the Sorbonne, had been traveling throughout Europe and were staying with the John Jacob Astor party in Cairo, Egypt, when Margaret received word that her first grandchild, Lawrence Palmer Brown, Jr., was ill. She decided to leave for New York immediately, and booked passage on the earliest ship: Titanic. At the last minute Helen decided to stay behind in London. Due to her quick decision, very few people, including family, knew that Margaret was on board the Titanic.

After the ship struck the iceberg, Margaret helped load others into lifeboats and eventually was forced to board lifeboat six. She and the other women in lifeboat six worked together to row, keep spirits up, and dispel the gloom that was broadcast by the emotional and unstable Robert Hichens. However, Margaret’s most significant work occurred on Carpathia, where she assisted Titanic survivors, and afterwards in New York. By the time Carpathia reached New York harbor, Margaret had helped establish the Survivor’s Committee, been elected as chair, and raised almost $10,000 for destitute survivors. Margaret’s language skills in French, German, and Russian were an asset, and she remained on Carpathia until all Titanic survivors had met with friends, family, or medical/emergency assistance. In a letter to her daughter shortly after the Titanic sinking, she wrote:

   “After being brined, salted, and pickled in mid ocean I am now high and dry… I have had flowers, letters, telegrams-people until I am befuddled. They are petitioning Congress to give me a medal… If I must call a specialist to examine my head it is due to the title of Heroine of the Titanic.”

Her sense of humor prevailed; to her attorney in Denver she wired:

   “Thanks for the kind thoughts. Water was fine and swimming good. Neptune was exceedingly kind to me and I am now high and dry.”

On May 29, 1912, as chair of the Survivor’s Committee Margaret presented a silver loving cup to Captain Rostron of the Carpathia and a medal to each Carpathia crew member. In later years Margaret helped erect the Titanic memorial that stands in Washington, D.C.; visited the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to place wreaths on the graves of victims; and continued to serve on the Survivor’s Committee. She was particularly upset that, as a woman, she was not allowed to testify at the Titanic hearings. In response she wrote her own version of the event which was published in newspapers in Denver, New York, and Paris.

The actor Kathy Bates, who portrayed Margaret “Molly” Brown in the movie Titanic, bears an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Brown.

The Daily/Nightly Show (I am the Slime)

Miles Thompson

Tonight’s topic is “Creative ways to execute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”  The Panelists are Dan Soder, Keith Robinson, and Alex Wagner.

I don’t know who thought this was funny, or appropriate, days after the conviction and right before the Boston Marathon but they were wrong and should be fired.

Yeah, that includes you Larry and you too Jon if your production company approved it.

This is an Islamophobic media lynching.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the guests- two shock comics one of whom earned their stripes on the Homophobic, Racist, Opus and Anthony show and still appears as a regular, and a “Lean Forward” DLC Operative scum sucking corporatist shill correspondent on the Faux Liberal news network MSNBC.

As angry as I am at Dick Cheney and W who are self admited war criminals who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with Hitler I have never, ever advocated their execution.

Let them rot in Spandau.

Moreover there are many, many unanswered questions about the Boston Marathon Bomb Plot including but not limited to why did the FBI and DHS ignore Tamerlan after labeling him a terrorist?  Why did the FBI execute Tamerlan’s best friend during an interrogation?  Who made the bombs?  The governments story about these issues is as leaky as their case against Bruce Edwards Ivins in the anthrax attacks.

And we know the government lies about these things, just as Police testalie all the time to convict people of color.

Wake up and smell the coffee Larry!

I don’t know if I’ll even bother watching.  I’m disgusted with you Larry that you ever let this air.  You’re deluded or hypocritical, take your pick.


Not African Enough For You?

The Daily Show Needs An African American Woman Host

This week’s guests-

One can only hope Jon is really, really funny tonight because Fareed Zakaria is another corporatist warhawk who only seems good by comparison with the other buckets of slime that ooze from cable news.

Adam Horovitz’s web exclusive extended video and the real news below.