Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:49 pm

“NSA itself had enough information to prevent 9/11, but chose to sit on it …”

This open memo to President Obama, written in part by former high-ranking employees of the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, claims that the NSA could have prevented 9/11, claims that the NSA could have taken economic and effective action after 9/11 to prevent future attacks but chose expensive, ineffective, and constitutionally damaging approaches instead, and even accuses former director Michael Hayden of corruption. It’s fairly long, but it’s simple to understand and it comports with the facts as we know them today. Some key excerpts:

From the executive summary:

The sadder reality, Mr. President, is that NSA itself had enough information to prevent 9/11, but chose to sit on it rather than share it with the FBI or CIA. We know; we were there. We were witness to the many bureaucratic indignities that made NSA at least as culpable for pre-9/11 failures as are other U.S. intelligence agencies.

From the section “Clapper and Alexander”:

Surely you have asked National Intelligence Director James Clapper flat-out why, in formal testimony to the Senate on March 12, 2013 he answered “No, Sir” to Senator Ron Wyden’s question, “Does the NSA collect any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Surely you know that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein persists in covering for Clapper, telling ABC three months after Clapper’s falsehood that “there is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper.” And now Director Clapper’s lawyer, Mr. Litt, is trying to convince readers of the New York Times that Clapper did not lie.

Surely you intuit that something is askew when NSA Director Keith Alexander testifies to Congress that NSA’s bulk collection has “thwarted” 54 terrorist plots and later, under questioning, is forced to reduce that number to one, which cannot itself withstand close scrutiny. And surely you understand why former NSA Director and CIA Director Michael Hayden protests too much and too often on Fox News and CNN, and why he and House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers publicly suggest that whistleblower Edward Snowden be put on your Kill List.

Does a blind loyalty prevail in your White House to the point where, 40 years after Watergate, there is not a single John Dean to warn you of a “cancer on the presidency?” Have none of your lawyers reminded you that “electronic surveillance of private citizens … subversive of constitutional government” was one of the three Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon approved by a bipartisan 28 to 10 vote of the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974? …

We are ready – if you are – for an honest conversation. That NSA’s bulk collection is more hindrance than help in preventing terrorist attacks should be clear by now despite the false claims and dissembling.

From the section “Fourth Amendment-Compliant Technology That Worked”:

No one currently working for NSA Director Alexander is likely to tell you this, so please hear it from us. In the years before 9/11, a group of NSA mathematicians and computer technology experts led by Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe devised a process called THINTHREAD for collection and rapid analysis of billions of electronic records relating to targets of intelligence interest, with automatic encryption of information about U.S. persons, per the standard of FISA and the Fourth Amendment.

Data on U.S. citizens could be decrypted only if a judge approved it after a finding that there was probable cause to believe that the target was connected with terrorism or other crimes. It was also considerably cheaper, easier, and more secure to store such data in encrypted format rather than allow that raw information to remain vulnerable to unauthorized parties in unencrypted form, as NSA chose to do. A fuller understanding of THINTHREAD’s capabilities is necessary to appreciate the implications of what came next.

THINTHREAD, you see, was a fundamental beginning to breaking the endemic problem of stovepipes – that is, standalone collection systems with standalone databases. There was such a maze of databases, with special security compartmentation, that it was impossible for an analyst to “see” more than a few pages, so to speak, about a target, much less a whole chapter, let alone the whole available book. Information was fragmented by design, in order to placate functionaries blindly placing tight security above virtually all other considerations – even, in this case, the analyst’s need to know.

Thus, THINTHREAD was developed precisely to unite data associated with terrorists/criminals from all databases. An analyst was able to do one simple query on participants on a targeted activity and get access to all related content – be it from computer, phone, or pager.

From the section “Some Programs Don’t Cost Enough”:

In 2000, as THINTHREAD was beginning to show promise, the head of the NSA Transformation Office (NTO) asked the creators of THINTHREAD (Loomis, Binney, and Wiebe) what they could do with $1.2 billion. We told him that, with that amount of funding, we could upgrade every one of our field installations that had access to foreign Internet sources, as well as upgrade collection equipment to access greater bandwidths available on fiber. But for the equipment, maintenance, and other costs for THINTHREAD, we only needed about $300 million.

Director Hayden reacted swiftly on learning of this. He removed the NTO chief, replacing him with a senior vice president of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which became one of the leading contractors for a replacement project called TRAILBLAZER. TRAILBLAZER was originally budgeted for $3.8 billion, but after burning away most of that money, it had to be jettisoned in 2006.

No functioning components had been produced, much less delivered; Gen. Hayden had been forced to confess to the Senate Intelligence Committee that TRAILBLAZER was vastly over budget as well as well behind schedule. And our (Binney/Loomis/Wiebe) complaint to the Department of Defense Inspector General had generated a highly critical report on TRAILBLAZER, which was also a factor in its termination. SAIC, though, continued to serve as one of NSA’s major prime development contractors and remains so to this day.

Hayden had announced TRAILBLAZER to great fanfare in the spring of 2000, as he began to show more preference for opening the door wider to the private sector. A year before, NSA’s New Enterprise Team, which included some of the undersigned, had begun to learn of contractor complaints over getting only maintenance contracts, while the most interesting work was being conducted in-house.

That fall, an NSA Red Team predicted that TRAILBLAZER would fail unless major changes were made to the program. Hayden, however, ignored the Red Team report, and none of the Red Team recommendations saw the light of day.

This particularly unconscionable (Hayden-SAIC-Congress) corruption is a case study in how the drive for big money and the power can squander big taxpayer bucks, chip away at our constitutional protections – and, more important, as we shall explain below – play a crucial role in the worst intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor – 9/11.

And there’s more:

“[Among data collected by THINTHREAD was] where I found the pre- and post-9/11 intelligence from NSA monitoring of some of the hijackers as they planned the attacks of 9/11 had not been shared outside NSA [writes former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake]. This includes critical pre-9/11 intelligence on al-Qaeda, even though it had been worked on by NSA analysts. I learned, for example, that in early 2001 NSA had produced a critical long-term analytic report unraveling the entire heart of al-Qaeda and associated movements. That report also was not disseminated outside of NSA.

“Make no mistake. That data and the analytic report could have, should have prevented 9/11.

“Top NSA management knew that. They knew that I knew that. I was immediately shut down. In spring 2002, the remnants of THINTHREAD were unceremoniously put on the shelf in NSA’s ‘Indiana Jones’ data warehouse, never to be seen again. …

“In December 2001, Senator Saxby Chambliss, chair of a House Subcommittee on Homeland Security announced a preliminary investigation into 9/11.  At a SIGINT Leadership Team meeting in February 2002, SIGINT chief Maureen Baginski directed me to lead a NSA Statement-for-the-Record effort for a closed-door hearing scheduled by Sen. Chambliss for early March to discuss what NSA knew about the 9/11 hijackers and their plotting before 9/11.

“As indicated above, the highly embarrassing answer was that NSA knew a great deal, but had not shared what it knew outside of NSA.

“After a couple of weeks Baginski rejected my draft team Statement for the Record report and removed me from the task. When I asked her why, she said there was a ‘data integrity problem’ (not further explained) with my draft Statement for the Record. I had come upon additional damaging revelations. For example, NSA had the content of telephone calls between AA-77 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar in San Diego, CA, and the known al-Qaeda safe house switchboard in Yemen well before 9/11, and had not disseminated that information beyond NSA.

“In short, when confronted with the prospect of fessing up, NSA chose instead to obstruct the 9/11 congressional investigation, play dumb, and keep the truth buried, including the fact that it knew about all inbound and outbound calls to the safe house switchboard in Yemen. NSA’s senior leaders took me off the task because they realized – belatedly, for some reason – that I would not take part in covering up the truth about how much NSA knew but did not share.

“When the 9/11 Commission hearings began, Director Hayden chortled at executive staff meetings over the fact that the FBI and CIA were feeling the heat for not having prevented 9/11. This was particularly difficult for me to sit through, for I was aware that NSA had been able to cover up its own culpability by keeping investigators, committees, and commissions away from the truth,” [Blake writes].

Seriously, go read the whole thing, which prompted this response from blogger Alex Marthews (yes, that’s how he spells it), who is involved in a Massachusetts campaign to “protect digital data from warrantless government surveillance.” After summarizing the facts asserted in the letter, he eloquently concludes:

You know that on this blog I tend not to use the swears. This time, I do use the swears:
I am [expletive] pissed off. What a [expletive]. What a gargantuan, despicable, offensive [expletive].These clowns gleefully threw the Constitution on the fire, and gave us NOTHING in return. We’re not safer. We’re certainly not richer. We have lost so much, so that a few people could become extremely rich and powerful, and our corrupt system is now incapable of holding them personally to account. Yet still they yammer on, clamoring for more funding for an NSA that doesn’t work, a TSA that doesn’t work, an FBI that chases imaginary plots instead of focusing on locking up actual criminals. They have played on our fears to make us exchange realistic risk assessment for a meaningless, nightmarish pantomime where we, the American people and indeed the people of the whole world, have to accept the loss of every freedom we hold dear in order to “do whatever it takes” to “catch the bad guys.”

I’m sick of it. Aren’t you sick of it? I am goddamn heart-sick of it.

It’s been more than thirteen years since my fiancee and I went out and bought our first TV and brought it home and watched stunned as the towers burned.

Thirteen years of watching the victims of 9/11 being used to justify horror after horror. Mass roundups of Muslims. Torture. Detention, even of US citizens, without trial, and now assassinations too. War in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, now apparently drone warfare [expletive] everywhere, and a constant stream of broken people being dropped back here like flotsam and told to get on with their chewed-up lives.

“If this was the day after 9/11,” says that bloviating [expletive] John McCain, “we wouldn’t even be talking about these [surveillance] programs.” I bet not. We were too busy putting up flags, grieving, and praying that we and those we loved wouldn’t be next. But grief, as we all know, has stages, and that state of mind doesn’t last thirteen years.

“The victims of 9/11 would have wanted us to do whatever it takes.” No, they [expletive] wouldn’t. Do you think we’re all scared six-year-olds hiding underneath our stairwells, waiting for Big Daddy NSA to tell us that everything’s OK and we can come out now?

[Expletive] that. You like us just where we are, cowering every time you say Boo, and you have no incentive to stop us until we tell you the game is over.

You’re the six-year-olds here, standing there with the Constitution on a skewer over an open flame and hollering, “9/11 MADE ME DO IT.”

Just quit it. We’re sick of it. We’re not going to freak out any more over a few seventh-century-loving lunatics. We have seen the real danger to our way of life, and it’s you, and people like you.

I’ve been raising hell about warrantless government surveillance of U.S. citizens for about a decade — ever since news of it belatedly came out. For most of that time it has been like pissing into a hurricane. Now, finally, whatever you think of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, they have put this stuff out where it can’t be ignored anymore, and some of the most senior former members of the intelligence committee — no doubt acting from both selfish and unselfish motives; whistleblowers tend to do that — are challenging/begging the people in charge to start returning us to the appropriate status for a constitutionally established democratic republic.

I have no confidence that will happen under the incumbent president — or under the obvious candidates to succeed him. But it needs to happen, and we need to raise hell about it until it does.

Monday, August 12, 2013 6:04 pm

Julia Ioffee is my new blogging hero

I’ve not had much use for The New Republic ever since they published that crap that was reputed to have eviscerated Clinton’s health plan (and did nothing of the sort, not that I’m bitter), and to be honest, before today I don’t recall hearing of Julia Ioffee despite subscribing to The New Yorker, for which she spent time in Moscow. But — and speaking of evisceration — her takedown of MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell is one of the most righteously satisfying things I’ve read on a blog — or anywhere else, for that matter — since Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” If they ever find a way to turn this post into a movie, Morgan Freeman’s status as an icon may be in serious danger. Just go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 8:31 pm

Limbaugh sliced, diced, dissected and wreckeded

I’ve never met John Cole, the proprietor of the blog Balloon Juice. But this much I know: I never want him to become my enemy.

Rush Limbaugh has been an enemy of Cole’s for a while, but his baseless attacks last week against Sandra Fluke have made Limbaugh Cole Enemy No. 1.

I don’t often say this (12 times in 10 years of blogging, in fact — this is the 13th), but, seriously, go read the whole thing. Not only is it a serious contender for Blog Post of the Year, it also is an encapsulation and indictment of just how thoroughly debased, divorced from fact and context, and vicious (in the older sense: vice-ridden) our public discourse has become, and how few consequences there are for severe, serial social deviance therein.

And that was on top of this public challenge to Hot Air (sorry, I ain’t linking to them) proprietor Ed Morrissey:

For those of you who can not watch videos, here is a .pdf of the transcript. At no point anywhere in her testimony did Sandra Fluke make any mention of her sexual activity. Never.

I challenge Ed right now — show me where she talked about her sex life in that testimony, and I will write a check for $1,000.00 to the RNC [Republican National Committee]. She simply didn’t make her sex life the topic of discussion, and Ed is lying out his ass. You could watch that video or read the transcript, and as far as you could tell, Miss Fluke might very well be a virgin.

Ed is lying. The people who made this issue, which was about medical health, into an issue about Sandra Fluke’s sex life are Rush Limbaugh and all the amoral cretins like Ed who decided that just like Graeme Frost, anyone who goes against what the right wants RIGHT NOW, is a target who needs to be destroyed.

So take the challenge, or apologize for lying, Ed. $1000.00 to the RNC the moment you can show me where she discussed her sex life, you lying sack of [excrement].

In a sane society, people like Limbaugh would live in locked, padded rooms, and whatever Cole is doing, we’d find a way to incentivize him to do more of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:24 pm

If you don’t want to read about 9/11 this weekend …

… (and I would not blame you if you don’t), then spend time instead with this piece by Mike Lofgren, a recently retired GOP congressional staffer. His 28 years of service include 16 on the GOP staff of the House and Senate budget committees. In every important respect, what he says comports with what I observed in 25 years of professional Congress-watching, particularly since the rise of the Gingrichites in 1994. Key points (and keep in mind that this is a career GOP operative talking):

  • “To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.”
  • “This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.”
  • “Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students. This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.”
  • “Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?”
  • The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. [Emphasis in original -- Lex] The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.”
  • “If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.”

Go read the whole thing. The kicker is that this guy retired because he figures that given what the GOP plans to do to the federal retirement system, it was better for him to be a current retiree (and thus grandfathered in) than a future one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 8:50 pm

“Sir, about the watery grave we are about to enter …”

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 8:50 pm

The sinking of the Titanic, as reimagined by David:

The time: 2:10 AM, April 15, 1912
Place: Deck of the RMS Titanic, in the middle of the North Atlantic

Capt. Boehner (The icy waters lapping at his feet): Damn it man, when are you and your people going to fix this problem?

First Officer Obama: Well, sir, your people built the ship, told us it couldn’t sink, fought regulations about carrying more life boats as “burdensome government regulation” then you sailed us through iceberg-infested waters at night, at top speed, in order to facilitate the betting pool for the First Class passengers.

Capt. Boehner: That’s so typical of you, inciting class warfare and rooting for the icebergs to win. I bet you are secretly an iceberg.

First Officer Obama: With respect sir, now is not the time for that argument.

Sir Rupert Murdoch: Now is ALWAYS the time for that argument!

First Officer Obama: Why is he on the bridge?

Capt. Boehner: Important business. He’s hacking the telegraph wires so he can spy on the other passengers.

Go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 10:22 pm

Attack of the evil zombie federal prosecutors

Scott Horton, who covers national-security issues for Harper’s, gave a speech Monday to a Rotary Club. Which, you know, ho-hum (no offense, Rotarians), except that 1) this group also included the American Constitution Society and 2) Horton’s the guy who recently blew the lid off the almost certainly faked triple “suicides” at Guantanamo in June 2006.

Horton’s subject was rogue federal prosecutors, the utter unwillingness of the Justice Department to police its own. He said there have been two great episodes of U.S. attorneys systemically going off the rails in significant numbers. The first was during the administration of John Adams. The second began during the administration of Bush the Lesser and, given Eric Holder’s lackluster efforts to hold anyone accountable, continues today. It consists of 1) baseless but politically motivated criminal prosecutions; 2) illegally providing cover for unconstitutional power grabs by the Executive Branch post 9/11; and 3) widespread (and illegal) withholding of exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. Not only do federal prosecutors who engage in these crimes suffer no consequences, they frequently have been punished when they refused and/or retaliated against when they tried to blow the whistle.

Horton, unfortunately, has a number of high-profile cases from which to draw his points, and each case yields example after example of behavior that ought to cost its perpetrators their law licenses, their good names and prison time for obstruction of justice but, under our current system, does not.

In eight years on this blog, I’ve said “Go read the whole thing” exactly six times. I’m saying it now. And when you’re done, you go ahead and sit there and try to keep a straight face while you tell me that the U.S. government is based on the rule of law.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:18 pm

Why James wears panties

I know that in many ways, large and small, it’s still a man’s world.

So does James:

I was still having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten, for reasons I couldn’t put a finger on.

My pay rate had hit a plateau, too. I knew I should be earning more. Others were, and I soaked up everything they could teach me, but still, there was something strange about it . . .

It wasn’t my skills, it wasn’t my work. So what were those others doing that I wasn’t?

One day, I tossed out a pen name, because I didn’t want to be associated with my current business, the one that was still struggling to grow. I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.

My life changed that day

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.

There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate.

And I was thankful. I finally stopped worrying about how I would feed my girls. We were warm. Well-fed. Safe. No one at school would ever tease my kids about being poor.

* * *

Understand, I hadn’t advertised more effectively or used social media — I hadn’t figured that part out yet. I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.

In fact, everything was the same.

Except for the name.

The answer was plain. Without really thinking much about it, I tried an experiment when I chose my new pseudonym:

I became a man (in name only)

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

Maybe I’m overly cynical, but the first thing that came to my mind when I read this was, “Surely you had telephone conversations with clients. Did they not pick up on the fact that you were, like, female?”

But whether this particular story really happened is immaterial, because I saw this happen to some pretty talented women in my years in the newspaper bidness. I’m sure a lot more of it went on that I simply wasn’t perceptive enough to notice, particularly at first.

I saw enough that when I got in a position to do something about it, I did: I pushed the women who worked for me just as hard as I pushed the men who worked for me. And when I say “push,” I mean two things: “motivate/train/hold high expectations for” and “promote” (in the sense of talking them and their work up to my fellow editors when their work merited it).

I’m under no illusions that I did this as well and thoroughly as I should have. But at least I knew going into management that this was a significant blind spot in management, even at a company that worked as hard as ours did at “embracing diversity.”

I didn’t do this because I’m a saint, or even because I’m a particularly nice guy. I did it because my mother, my wife, my sister, my sisters-in-law, my daughter and my nieces are all bright, talented women who deserve to reap whatever benefits their skills, energy and persistence would otherwise entitle them to, without the market distortion of an estrogen discount.

Go read the whole thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009 6:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/11

Memo to BoingBoing.net: Rick Warren has not “done the right thing.” Rick Warren has merely done the only thing that might stave off a PR disaster for himself and what he laughably passes off as a “ministry.” There’s a difference. “Doing the right thing” would have required Ranger Rick to immediately, loudly and repeatedly denounce state-sanctioned murder of gays (and imprisonment of their families/friends for not reporting them). Now study up; this will be on the final.

Why don’t we have a health-care bill yet? Here’s one reason.

Success! Because why in the world would we want to regulate the financial instrument that almost destroyed the global economy?

Aetna’s solution to Robert Steinback’s health-insurance needs: “Die, Mr. Steinback.” As the brother of two guys with Type 1 diabetes, I feel his pain, and I’m still waiting for someone to explain credibly to me why we don’t need at the least a national, robust public option, if not single-payer.

Not exactly giving us what we like: The Senate health-care proposal is less popular than the public option. How much less popular? Seventeen percentage points. That’s huge.

You want death panels? You can’t handle death panels!

And speaking of panels: Digby has a name for the panel Pete Peterson is proposing to figure out a way to balance the budget: the Bipartisan Committee To Destroy Social Security and Medicare So Wealthy People Don’t Ever Have To Pay Higher Taxes. Prolix but accurate.

Facts matter. So take that, Glenn Beck supporters.

The party of responsibility and accountability, which controls the S.C. legislature, has declined to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford.

Another way to get by without health insurance: Yitzhak Ganon just didn’t go see the doctor. For sixty-five years.

We’ve killed al-Qaeda’s No. 3 guy. Again.

The grownups of fact-checking take on “Climategate.” Their findings will surprise no one and enrage denialists.

Shorter Sarah Palin: “Correcting my (many) factual mistakes = making the issue something it’s not.”

Does Fox News want to make us laugh, or is it simply trying to bankrupt Rupert Murdoch?: Even by the rug-burn standards of online polling, this question is so loaded it is leaving big cracks in the digital asphalt.

Green? Shoot!: The number of people shifting to emergency unemployment insurance because their regular coverage had run out topped 379,000 last week, bringing the overall total to a record 4.2 million. At the current rate of increase, the number of people getting emergency payments will top the people getting regular payments (5.5 million) within a month.

Green? Shoot!, the sequel: Independent financial analyst David Rosenberg (via ZeroHedge) says that 1) because of contracting credit and asset deflation, we’re not in a recession, we’re in a depression; 2) the 20% deflation of household assets in the past 18 months — a loss of $12 trillion in value — is “a degree of trauma we have never seen before”, 3) … aw, hell, just go read the whole thing. It’s orders of magnitude more depressing than anything on CNBC, but also appears orders of magnitude more fact-based, unfortunately.

Green? Shoot! Reloaded: Paul Krugman offers some objective criteria by which we might determine exactly what constitutes “good news on the job front.”  Just remember, we’ve got to make up lost ground. A lot of lost ground.

Public pants-wetting: Why do Reps. Trent Franks, Steve King and Sue Myrick hate America?

In news that will surprise exactly zero parents, scientists now say 98% of children under the age of 10 are sociopaths.

And, finally, some good news (h/t: Fred), or, When the Germans say “Prost!”, they mean it: Beer could fight prostate cancer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009 4:29 pm

Jason Linkins serves on the lonely outposts …

… of reality and sanity, defending us from Teh Stoopid with his mega-Patronus Charm of Barbed Humor & Mockery, as he liveblogs the Sunday morning talk shows (which you should never watch without a condom, latex gloves or both). Some of his jokes fall flat, but in the main this is a column full of WIN, including but not limited to a wonderful Mission of Burma video.

Some samples:

  • “[Chris] Wallace wants [Arlen] Specter to name another Congress that has cut Medicare by such a significant amount. He can’t! BURN!”
  • “Then [Wallace says]: ‘David Broder wrote a great column.’ Wrong. David Broder never writes great columns. A David Broder column about a Quinnipiac poll is the most awful piece of writing that anyone can imagine. David Broder is long past the day where he should have been shipped off to some lonely tundra to be eaten by ice wolves. Seriously, anyone who respects Broder needs to be trepanned.”
  • “Ann Kornblut is staring at Bill Kristol, thinking, “I can fix him!” YOU CAN’T, ANN! Hold out for someone who loves you for you.”
  • “[Brit] Hume says that we need to be a lot more unreasonable and bellicose so that we can threaten foreign powers into accepting a position of burden on our behalf for nothing in return.”
  • “Tom Coburn is on [This Week with George Stephanopoulos], today? The Senate is literally mounting a Sunday morning charisma offensive. This panel is Marsha Blackburn, Ben ‘Ralph Wiggum’ Nelson, Tom Coburn, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. So, that makes ONE person who thinks all Americans should have health care. Great! Nelson leads things off: ‘FIRE IS BURNY AND IT MAKES ME SAD.’ GS asks about filibustering, and Nelson replies: ‘SOMETIMES KITTY IS BITEY!'”
  • “Marsha Blackburn is blonde and pretty and has a voice that sounds like sloe gin fizz as she lies and fearmongers.”
  • “Liz Cheney, of course, says that the stimulus package emboldened terrorists, and we will all soon die when KSM unleashes his hypnobeams upon New York City.”
  • “Fun fact! Last night, I led a discussion about what ‘pony play’ is, over drinks, and you really cannot convince me that it would not have garnered higher network ratings than this show [Meet the Press], which is now the only thing standing in the way between me having a Thanksgiving break from David Gregory.”
  • “Anyway, Dianne Feinstein is a big fan of the bill, and voting for the bill, and debating the bill, and reconciling the bill, and most of all getting re-elected.”
  • “This panel is filibustering my life! David Gregory thinks it is significant that Americans think it won’t cut costs than the fact that experts in the field say it will. Someone, somewhere, in the world is always gathering together to say something dumb or uninformed or half-assed … it isn’t always ‘an interesting point of view.’ SOMETIMES IT IS JUST STUPID.”
  • “If this panel died in a plane crash, Don McLean would write a seven minute song about how rock music was awesome again!”
  • “Did you know that somehow, more people are watching this show than any other Sunday Morning talk show? It’s true. And I am one of them, and for that, I am very sorry. The Nielsen people really should have a calculation for ‘conscientious objectors,’ like me, who have to watch the show, but wish the Vogons would come and destroy it to build an interstellar highway.”

OK, that’s about all the WIN I can handle. Seriously. I laughed out loud so much that I’ve started hacking and wheezing again, so I’m going back to bed. But y’all go read the whole thing.

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 8:23 pm

“Corporate Communism”

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , ,

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan’s neologism for the way things currently are run in this country may be more catchy than strictly correct. But the problems he identifies (guest-posting at Zero Hedge) are quite real and quite dangerous to our long-term economic health:

As Americans, I believe we reject Communism because it historically has allowed a tiny group of people to consolidate complete control over national resources (including people), in the process stifling competition, freedom and choice. It leaves its citizens stagnating under the perpetual broken systems with no natural motivation to innovate, improve services or reduce costs.

Lack of choice, lazy, unresponsive customer service, a culture of exploitation and a small powerbase formed by cronyism and nepotism are the hallmarks of a communist system that steals from its citizenry and a major reason why America spent half a century fighting a Cold War with the U.S.S.R.

And yet today we find ourselves as a country in two distinctly different categories: those who are forced to compete tooth and nail each day to provide value to society in return for income for ourselves and our families and those who would instead use our lawmaking apparatus to help themselves to our tax money and/or to protect themselves from true competition.

Go read the whole thing, which isn’t long — and then read the comments to learn what you can do about it. I particularly like this anonymous one: “Our democratic votes every year (or 4 [years] for most) are irrelevant when compared to our economic votes.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 11:33 pm

We do not hide our crazy aunts in the attic …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 11:33 pm
Tags: ,

… no, we put ‘em out on the front porch so EVERYBODY can enjoy them. So says Neal Gabler, who may know more about how American media function than anyone else alive:

What is under the radar is something more recent and more terrifying for the health of our political system: The Republican Party has become a small minority of out-of-mainstream people (think Representative Joseph Wilson’s outburst to the president this week) but, by virtue of its history, of the media attention it receives, and, frankly, by default, it still occupies a central place in our political life. In any other Western democracy it might have become a far-right splinter party. In America, we don’t really have splinter parties. When one of our parties goes crazy, it doesn’t slide to the margins.

Now, in all fairness, not all Republicans are crazy. Not even most of them. But the ones who actually hold positions of power and influence in the party at the national level? Well …

Gabler isn’t the first to observe this phenomenon. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, back in his “Calpundit” days, posted insightfully in  late ’03 about this phenomenon (and he wasn’t the first, either). (Just go read the whole thing; it ain’t that long.)

I asked several posts down when the smart people were going to get to run things. I also want to know when the SANE people will get a chance. The important choices that have to be made about the future of this country and the survival of humanity on this planet are being unduly influenced, when they’re not being made outright, by geeks, waterheads, nematodes, mouth-breathers and knuckle-draggers, and, please God, if it doesn’t stop we are really screwed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009 9:14 pm

“First of all, generally speaking, when one apologizes for having done a bad thing (like for instance destroying the world economy), it is good form to wait at least until the end of the sentence to start bragging again.”

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:14 pm
Tags: , ,

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is really, really sorry that his company just somehow got swept up in the events that led to the current economic crisis. Really:

While we regret that we participated in the market euphoria and failed to raise a responsible voice, we are proud of the way our firm managed the risk it assumed on behalf of our clients before and during the financial crisis.

Tell it to my 401k, you schmuck.

Matt Taibbi brazenly dares to point out that Goldman’s role was actually, well, a little more involved than that:

Really, Lloyd? You “participated” in the market euphoria? You didn’t, I don’t know, cause the market euphoria? By almost any measurement, Goldman was a central, leading player in the subprime housing bubble story. Just yesterday I was talking to Guy Cecala at Inside Mortgage Finance, the trade publication that tracks statistics in the mortgage lending industry. He said that at the height of the boom, in 2006, Goldman Sachs underwrote $76.5 billion in mortgage-backed securities, or 7% of the entire market. Of that $76.5 billion, $29.3 billion was subprime, which is bad enough — but another $29.8 billion was what’s called “Alt-A” paper. Alt-A mortgages are characterized, mainly, by crappy documentation and lack of equity: no income verification, no asset verification, little-to-no cash down. So while “only” 38% of the mortgage-backed securities Goldman underwrote were subprime, more than three-fourths of their securities were what is called “non-prime,” i.e., either subprime or Alt-A. …

These [lousy] mortgages … would never have been possible had not someone devised a method for selling them off to secondary buyers. No local bank is going to keep millions of dollars worth of Alt-A mortgages on its books, because no sensible company lends out money to very risky customers and actually keeps those loans on its balance sheet.

So this system depended almost entirely on banks like Goldman finding ways to … chop the mortgages up into little bits, repackage them as mortgage-backed securities … and sell them to unsuspecting customers on the secondary market. … Next thing you know, a bunch of teachers in Holland are betting their retirement nest eggs on a bunch of meth-addicted “homeowners” in Texas and Arizona.

This isn’t really commerce, but much more like organized crime: it was a gigantic fraud perpetrated on the economy that wouldn’t have been possible without accomplices in the ratings agencies and regulators willing to turn a blind eye. …

I’ve been saying that last bit for some time. Glad to know that someone who knows significantly more about this than I do agrees with me.

But wait! There’s more!

Second of all, what is particularly obnoxious about this phrase is that Goldman is bragging about the fact that it actually made money while it was pumping the economy full of explosive leverage. … Goldman’s continual bragging about its mortgage hedges is one of the more obnoxious phenomena in the recent history of Wall Street, given that it was selling this [garbage] by the ton during that same period.

And it wasn’t just selling lousy mortgage-backed securities, either. It also was killing other companies and putting a screwing for the ages on the American taxpayer in the process:

AIG’s death spiral was triggered not so much by its bets going sour, but by companies like Goldman that demanded that AIG put up cash to show its ability to pay. These collateral calls were what killed AIG last September, and Goldman was one of those creditors pulling the trigger: what makes this fact even more obnoxious is that ex-Goldmanite Henry Paulson then stepped in and green-lighted an $80 billion taxpayer bailout. Ultimately another ex-Goldmanite named Ed Liddy was put in charge of AIG, and Goldman ended up getting paid 100 cents on the dollar for its AIG debt. So basically Goldman helped kill AIG, necessitating a federal bailout, after which time it got paid off handsomely for bets that it certainly would not have been paid off completely for had AIG simply been liquidated.

Go read the whole thing, not-safe-for-work language and all. And the Blankfeins of the world wonders why there’s still a small but persistent segment out there calling for the whole freakin’ finance industry to be nationalized….

Friday, May 29, 2009 9:25 pm

Why health care costs are so high … and will be hard to bring down

Atul Gawande is a Boston-based doctor who writes frequently about medical issues for The New Yorker. He has a piece in this week’s issue that, in examining what might be done to rein in health-care costs, starts with an excellent question: Why are per-capita Medicare costs (frequently used as an indicator for overall medical costs) in McAllen, Texas, so much higher than in the rest of the country, or even in comparable parts of Texas, such as El Paso?

Some of the things he learned:

  • It’s not that McAllen’s population is so much unhealthier than anywhere else’s.
  • The quality of facilities and overall quality of care aren’t markedly better in McAllen than in El Paso.
  • It’s not the cost of malpractice suits.

One thing he found is that there is simply more medicine, particularly of the more expensive type, practiced in McAllen than elsewhere.

Moreover, “[Dartmouth researcher Elliott] Fisher found that patients in high-cost areas were actually less likely to receive low-cost preventive services, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, faced longer waits at doctor and emergency-room visits, and were less likely to have a primary-care physician. They got more of the stuff that cost more, but not more of what they needed.”

“Physicians in places like McAllen behave differently from others,” Gawande wrote. “The $2.4-trillion question” — that’s about what the U.S. spends annually on health care — ” is why. Unless we figure it out, health reform will fail.”

Gawande finds that, relative to a lot of other communities, physicians have worked hard to develop new revenue streams (e.g., investing in private, for-profit hospitals to which they refer patients):

About fifteen years ago, it seems, something began to change in McAllen. A few leaders of local institutions took profit growth to be a legitimate ethic in the practice of medicine. Not all the doctors accepted this. But they failed to discourage those who did. So here, along the banks of the Rio Grande, in the Square Dance Capital of the World, a medical community came to treat patients the way subprime-mortgage lenders treated home buyers: as profit centers.

The purest opposition to this approach might be at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic:

… decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers [to better health care]. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focussed first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible.

No one there actually intends to do fewer expensive scans and procedures than is done elsewhere in the country. The aim is to raise quality and to help doctors and other staff members work as a team. But, almost by happenstance, the result has been lower costs.

Entire medical communities, such as that of Grand Junction, Colo., have adopted similar approaches (adapted to their own local needs) and achieved similar results. The lesson, Gawande says is that you need not just more efficient and effective treatments but better entire systems of care. “The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care,” he writes. “Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes. You get McAllen.”

(He also says, “These are empirical, not ideological, questions.” Bless him, but dollars to doughnuts, that won’t stop politicians and lobbyists from treating them as ideological questions.)

We have little time to make changes, we have to make the right changes, and arguing about cost and accessibility of coverage, although important, may be missing an even more important, urgent and dangerous point: even some of the more efficient community systems may be evolving toward the McAllen model:

In El Paso, the for-profit health-care executive told me, a few leading physicians recently followed McAllen’s lead and opened their own centers for surgery and imaging. When I was in Tulsa a few months ago, a fellow-surgeon explained how he had made up for lost revenue by shifting his operations for well-insured patients to a specialty hospital that he partially owned while keeping his poor and uninsured patients at a nonprofit hospital in town. Even in Grand Junction, Michael Pramenko told me, “some of the doctors are beginning to complain about ‘leaving money on the table.’ ”

As America struggles to extend health-care coverage while curbing health-care costs, we face a decision that is more important than whether we have a public-insurance option, more important than whether we will have a single-payer system in the long run or a mixture of public and private insurance, as we do now. The decision is whether we are going to reward the leaders who are trying to build a new generation of Mayos and Grand Junctions. If we don’t, McAllen won’t be an outlier. It will be our future.

Go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 6:27 am

Magic and loss

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 6:27 am

I have a lot of thoughts about the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but given that I was all 9/11, all the time at work yesterday, I’m really tired of the subject. So instead, I’ll just point you to this brilliant post by my friend David Allen, a reflection on loss and grief. It’s occasioned by 9/11, but it’s about loss in general, and his writing is magic. Go read the whole thing.

Friday, December 9, 2005 5:51 am

It’s awards season again

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 5:51 am

Over at The Poorman, The Editors have announced the nominees for The Purple Teardrop with Clutched Pearls cluster, an award for wounded feelings in public service discourse, and the competition promises to be fierce. Consider this entry from Jeff Gannon, the male prostitute/fake reporter purged from the White House Press Corpse:

… the Gannongate legacy will be an example of 21st century McCarthyism waged against a journalist by the very same people who perpetually decry such tactics. When my name is invoked it will be to represent the politics of personal destruction being used against a reporter.

Actually, it will be to represent “silly deluded man-whore,” but still, that’s one powerful example of Martyr Complex. The Editors have others. As they say, go read the whole thing.

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