Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:28 pm

Real courage

From author and former war correspondent Chris Hedges:

I have been to war. I have seen physical courage. But this kind of courage is not moral courage. Very few of even the bravest warriors have moral courage. For moral courage means to defy the crowd, to stand up as a solitary individual, to shun the intoxicating embrace of comradeship, to be disobedient to authority, even at the risk of your life, for a higher principle. And with moral courage comes persecution.

The American Army pilot Hugh Thompson had moral courage. He landed his helicopter between a platoon of U.S. soldiers and 10 terrified Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre. He ordered his gunner to fire his M60 machine gun on the advancing U.S. soldiers if they began to shoot the villagers. And for this act of moral courage, Thompson, like Snowden, was hounded and reviled. Moral courage always looks like this. It is always defined by the state as treason—the Army attempted to cover up the massacre and court-martial Thompson. It is the courage to act and to speak the truth. Thompson had it. Daniel Ellsberg had it. Martin Luther King had it. What those in authority once said about them they say today about Snowden.

I’ll entertain the argument that if Snowden were truly morally courageous, he would return to the U.S. to stand trial. But I’ll also reject it, because since 9/11 the government has shown itself lacking in judgment and common sense, let alone adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law, on issues of national security. It has no business judging Snowden, and I give Snowden credit for having the smarts to recognize that fact.

That said, for all I know, Snowden is an absolute creep, if not a criminal, in other areas of his life. You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters are the documented facts about our government’s malfeasance, committed in our name and with our tax dollars, that he has brought to light. Bruce Springsteen once said, “Trust the song, not the singer.” And while lots of critics have lambasted Snowden for demonstrably violating the conditions of his security clearance and arguably breaking the law (and have criticized journalist Glenn Greenwald for publishing the information Snowden obtained and also for his sometimes-obnoxious online behavior), no one has proved any of the factual assertions false that Snowden and Greenwald have brought to light.

I’ll say it again: They might be jackasses, but they are jackasses who are right.

Hedges probably also is right about what historians will say about Snowden. Hugh Thompson, his example, was, in his later years, brought to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to instruct future Army officers on ethics. It’s possible, if not likely, that some of the same officers criticizing Snowden today sat in Thompson’s classes. Pity, for them and the nation, that they didn’t listen.

(h/t: Fec)

 

Monday, February 24, 2014 10:52 pm

Bonus quote of the day

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 10:52 pm
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From Ed at Gin & Tacos: Florida: “(i)t’s democracy’s meth lab.”

Quote of the Day, America-we’re-all-in-this-together edition

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea,Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 10:10 pm
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Athenae at First Draft:

There is no way out of paying for somebody else. There is no way to live in our society completely independent of everybody else. You drive on the roads, you drink the water, you nod hello at your neighbor in the morning, and every time you put gas in your tank you’re a part of something. You can either suck it up and admit that, and sit down and figure out the best way for us all to get what we need, or we can keep having these stupid fights and talking about MAH TAX DOLLAHS buying T-bone steaks and [expletive].

You’re paying for it either way, so the only real question is how much of an [expletive] you want to be in the process.

 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:11 pm

“State secrets” and the erosion of the Bill of Rights

Time after time, in case after case in the So-Called War on Terror, we have seen the government invoke “state secrets,” as a means of denying defendants access to potentially exculpatory information in the government’s possession or as a means of denying civil plaintiffs access to information that would strengthen their own case at the government’s expense. As a result, some potentially innocent people have remained in custody for years, in many cases without trial or even charge. As a result, some meritorious lawsuits against government overreach have been tossed.

As a result, the country has both weakened and betrayed its own values. That’s bad enough.

But now? We come to find that for seven years, the government has been invoking “state secrets” to cover up a simple, understandable, and easy-to-fix paperwork error, albeit one with significant consequences. That error, compounded by the massive cover-up on the part of high-ranking officials in both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, particularly Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder, kept an innocent woman named Rahinah Ibrahim on the U.S. government’s no-fly list for that period. For much of that period, the defense was invoked merely to prevent her from learning whether she was even on the list, let alone being able to do something about it.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

“Under this policy, the Department of Justice will defend an assertion of the state secrets privilege in litigation, and seek dismissal of a claim on that basis, only when necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security,” reads an April signed declaration from the attorney general to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who presided over the Ibrahim litigation in San Francisco.

The state secrets privilege was first upheld by the Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era case and generally requires judges to dismiss lawsuits against the United States when the government asserts a trial threatens national security.

In his declaration, Holder assured Judge Alsup that the government would not be claiming national security to conceal “administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment” — an assertion that is now nearly impossible to square with the facts.

Way I read that, “now nearly impossible to square with the facts” means “a stone lie.”

Finally, her case was allowed to come to trial, a month before which the presiding judge, during a pretrial conference, told lawyers, “I feel like I have been had by the government.”

Time was, lawyers who intentionally misled judges suffered serious consequences to their cases, if not to themselves personally. As it was, after a five-day nonjury trial, the judge ruled for Ibrahim.

Here’s my question: If the government would illegally invoke “state secrets” for seven years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to cover up a bloody paperwork error, what else is it covering up under the “state secrets” defense? Prosecution and/or punishment of innocent people? Ongoing torture? Extrajudicial assassinations? Massive waste, fraud and abuse in the national intelligence apparatus? At this point you’d have to be an idiot to bet on anything except all these and more.

Classification of material to cover up evidence of a crime is, itself, a federal crime. And it’s one with which not nearly enough people have been charged. But beyond that, judges who get played by the government this way should, when they figure out what’s going on, bring the gavel down on the government officials and lawyers involved so viciously that a century from now such officials and lawyers will speak of it only behind closed doors, with hushed voices, in the dark of night, the elderly cautioning the young.

Friday, February 7, 2014 8:24 pm

How to monetize journalism

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:24 pm
Tags: , ,

Athenae, even while wrestling with a newborn, nailed this in one take:

Seems to be a matter of whoring yourself out to any passing truck driver who throws on a Goodwill sport coat for the night, coupled with showing absolutely no remorse for being a solipsistic [expletive] who can’t make the connection between policy failures and LOTS OF DEAD PEOPLE.

Sounds about right. Quality journalism, journalism that helps people make sense of their world and their agency within it and that holds the powerful accountable, has almost never been profitable. It almost always has been subsidized by something else: advertisements, sports, recipes, the comics, donations, or all of the above. And anyone who claims otherwise, as Jim VandeHei of Politico seemed to be doing here, has probably already found himself a passing truck driver in a Goodwill sport coat.

Monday, February 3, 2014 8:20 pm

Leroy Jethro Gibbs’s Rule No. 39: There is no such thing as coincidence.

One retired and two current bank executives, all of whose employers are under investigation, supposedly committed suicide within a few days of each other last month*, one of them by supposedly jumping off the roof of one of London’s most secure buildings, a place where the roof shouldn’t be accessible.

And a Wall Street Journal reporter covering the oil market, which is under investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, disappeared Jan. 11 without a trace.

Coincidence? Could be. But based on Gibbs’s Rule 39 and what little we know now, my gut says no. My gut also picked Seattle to narrowly win the Super Bowl, so make of that what you will.

*UPDATE: Link fixed. h/t Anna.

“This is not a religious crisis; it’s a military-political crisis.”

So if you even glance at the headlines, you probably know that there is something somewhere between civil unrest and civil war going on in, um, let’s see, Egypt, Syria, Somalia, and Ukraine. (And those are just the ones getting the most headlines.) You probably also didn’t know that there is civil strife in the Central African Republic. The Central African Republic has, literally, a wealth of resources, namely gold and diamonds. And yet most of its people live in poverty.

That fact alone tells me two things: 1) The government is corrupt, and 2) the government is corrupt. Because those diamonds and gold aren’t just sitting there in the ground, they’re being extracted, so someone, somewhere, is making a ton of money.

The people are, predictably, upset about this. The government and some media have tried to paint this as a conflict between Christians and Muslims, and indeed, at street level, some of those conflicts have been just that. But as the Archbishop of Bangui and the imam who serves as president of the Islamic Central African community work together both to ease religious tension and to get help from other nations in peacekeeping,  the bigger picture becomes clear: Most of the country is poor because the country is being robbed blind.

The UN has warned of genocide in the country, where almost a quarter of the population has become refugees. My guess is that this story will get worse before it gets better, and even if I surpass my biblically-allotted threescore and 10 years, they won’t get substantially better in my remaining lifetime. The UN already is warning that genocide will take place.

I don’t have any solutions. I just thought more people ought to know.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 10:27 pm

Quote of the Day, RIP Pete Seeger edition

Filed under: Sad,Salute! — Lex @ 10:27 pm
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“Pete was an angry man. He did something great with his anger.” — writer Jeff Sharlett

What happens when “Don’t Be Evil” meets evil

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my money back. — Lex @ 10:09 pm

Oh, stuff like this:

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”

Later that year, Schmidt instructed his Sr VP for Business Operation Shona Brown to keep the pact a secret and only share information “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?”

These secret conversations and agreements between some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley were first exposed in a Department of Justice antitrust investigation launched by the Obama Administration in 2010. That DOJ suit became the basis of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of over 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered — an estimated $9 billion effectively stolen by the high-flying companies from their workers to pad company earnings — in the second half of the 2000s. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied attempts by Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe to have the lawsuit tossed, and gave final approval for the class action suit to go forward. A jury trial date has been set for May 27 in San Jose, before US District Court judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the Samsung-Apple patent suit.

In a related but separate investigation and ongoing suit, eBay and its former CEO Meg Whitman, now CEO of HP, are being sued by both the federal government and the state of California for arranging a similar, secret wage-theft agreement with Intuit (and possibly Google as well) during the same period.

The secret wage-theft agreements between Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Pixar (now owned by Disney) are described in court papers obtained by PandoDaily as “an overarching conspiracy” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, and at times it reads like something lifted straight out of the robber baron era that produced those laws. Today’s inequality crisis is America’s worst on record since statistics were first recorded a hundred years ago — the only comparison would be to the era of the railroad tycoons in the late 19th century.

I’m delighted that the class-action lawsuit is going forward. But I still see two huge problems:

  1. The money that all those employees would have been paid in an unrigged labor market — estimated here at $9 billion — is lost to them forever and likely staying with the executives forever.
  2. Lawsuits are all well and good, but anyone who has passed Econ 101 knows that this arrangement violated antitrust law. The executives involved need to face serious criminal charges. This action constituted criminal fraud and conspiracy, plain and simple, and possibly other crimes that aren’t so simple.

Nothing is going to stop this crap until rich and famous corporate executives start getting frog-marched around in orange jumpsuits on live TV before being locked away long enough for all their tech knowledge to become worthless, along with most of their teeth.

 

Monday, January 27, 2014 10:19 pm

The price of experience

Today is observed internationally as Holocaust Remembrance Day (it’s the anniversary of the day Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945). Earlier this evening, I attended a screening of the movie “Jakob the Liar,” about the lives of Jews in Poland’s Lodz ghetto in 1944, followed by recitations of the Male HaRachamim and the Kaddish.

The event also included a reading of a meditation, “The Price of Experience,” written by Adrian Mitchell and Kate Westbrook. Two lines in particular struck me:

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted/To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer

It must be, because we do so much of it in America today. We have one major party (and, frankly, some members of the other) actively working against universal access to  health care. We accuse the poor of deserving to be poor because of moral flaws or failure to exert sufficient effort to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, never mind the fact that increasing numbers of Americans have no boots and no immediate prospects of being able to find a job that pays well enough to buy them.

What is going on in America today is by no means, of course, morally equivalent to the Holocaust, and I do not mean to imply otherwise. But it is bad nonetheless: For more than 30 years the wealthy have waged war on the middle class, and that war has only accelerated with and since the Crash of ’08. Meanwhile, the hyperwealthy who attend Davos moan about the bad things the less fortunate say about them. One moron, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, writing in The Wall Street Journal — and you can’t make this crap up — even compared complaints about the wealthy to attitudes of Nazi Germany toward Jews. On a slightly less offensive level, neither Congress nor the Beltway media talk much about this problem, let alone consult with some of the people who know how to fix it. One can only assume that things are this way because the wealthy and powerful want them this way. That’s bad enough. But the victim blaming is a sign of advanced moral rot. And when moral rot in a society’s leadership expands to this point, perhaps a Holocaust is not inevitable. But a French Revolution certainly isn’t out of the question — nor should it be.   

Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:57 pm

Terrorist acts that our federal and state governments have ignored

Esquire’s Charlie Pierce with a thought experiment:

Imagine if there were three terrorist events in two weeks. First, terrorists poison a state’s water supply. Then, they rig a building to collapse and rig another one hundreds of miles away to explode. Nervous politicians would be blue-pencilling the Bill of Rights by daybreak. The NSA would throw a parade for itself. Edward Snowden would be hung in effigy, if we couldn’t do it in person. Somebody’s ass would get droned in Waziristan.

Sounds about right.

But in the past two weeks, we have seen West Virginia’s water supply be poisoned by a Koch Bros.-owned chemical plant (CORRECTION: As Roch notes below, the Kochs sold the plant Dec. 31, nine days before the leak), which promptly filed for bankruptcy protection so that the families who are harmed will have to be compensated by the state if they get compensated at all. Then we have the building collapse in Nebraska and the explosion in Oklahoma. And those events happened in the wake of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people, injured more than 160 others and damaged or destroyed more than 150 buildings. What do these things have in common? Freedom! The dead hand of government regulation has been removed, by fiat or via lack of enforcement, so that these companies could kill Americans without significantly harming their owners’ bottom lines.

At Cogitamus.com, the Low-Tech Cyclist says:

I keep on waiting for the Democratic Party to get a clue about this: to say after the latest such disaster, “This is why we regulate, [expletive] – this is why we need the regulations, and why we need enough Federal inspectors out in the field to make sure they’re followed.  Because otherwise, they’ll poison our food, dump chemicals in our rivers, steal your wages, and make you work in places that could blow up.”

But Dems at the state and federal levels seem almost as in thrall to industry as their GOP brethren and sistren, so we’re all screwed. Pierce concludes:

(Forklift operator) Kendrick Houston was brave enough to go back into the fire (in Omaha). Yet too many of our politicians, local and national, don’t have the simple stones to stand up to a corporate class that has come to represent nothing but death and pillage. But they will show up at the funerals, boy. They will do that, and they will talk about the indomitable spirit of American individualism, through which people will run back into the fire, and then they will go out onto the stump next fall and talk about how the dead hand of government regulation is stifling that same spirit, and that freedom demands more victims. The American Dream becomes the province of the dead, Moloch with stock options, and that is the country today, where things fall down and things blow up and almost nothing ever changes.

The Republicans got the Congress back in 1994 in part by using language to frame the terms of the debate and even to describe their opponents as outlined in the now-famous document “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” So is it excessive to, as Low-Tech Cyclist does, call our plutocrat class “terrorists”? I think not — if the poison-tipped jackboot fits, wear it — but even then, they do what they do because we allow our legislators to let them. This, among many, many other reasons, is why voting matters and why electing people to office who believe that government can and should do its job, not those who are bent on dismantling what remains of government, is so important.

Some of our most vicious terrorists are home-grown, and it’s time they did time. But in addition, and better, it’s time we prevented them from getting in the way of what’s needed to keep our food, water, drugs, cosmetics, workplaces, and so on, safe. Because the free market doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you live or die. If you doubt me, you can just go to West, Texas, or even just down to Hamlet and ask.

Friday, January 17, 2014 8:45 pm

The rough men who stand ready on our behalf

I understand that a lot of people are angry with Edward Snowden for exposing the National Security Agency’s enormous, and arguably illegal, domestic surveillance program. I get it. He violated an oath and took his nation’s secrets not only to the nation, which definitely needed to hear at least some of them, but also, in some form, to places they shouldn’t have gone, such as China and Russia.

Still, someone needs to explain to me how a nation under the rule of law squares its Constitution with comments from these people who also have taken oaths, in this case to uphold that Constitution:

Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.”

An aside: you can love the idea of killing someone you believe is a traitor, or you can refrain from taking pleasure in the taking of another human being’s life. But you can’t do both. We continue:

That violent hostility lies just beneath the surface of the domestic debate over NSA spying is still ongoing. Some members of Congress have hailed Snowden as a whistle-blower, the New York Times has called for clemency, and pundits regularly defend his actions on Sunday talk shows. In intelligence community circles, Snowden is considered a nothing short of a traitor in wartime.

“His name is cursed every day over here,” a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas intelligence collections base. “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”

One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.

“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

Yeah, just innocently dying in a scenario conjured up by James Bond’s SMERSH. Nothing to see here.

If you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes among its guarantees protections against punishment with without due process (a formal charge and, unless defendant pleads guilty, a formal trial), then you don’t get to say crap like this. Indeed, saying it is, arguably, the speaker’s own violation of his own oath and as deserving of punishment as is Snowden’s behavior.

Being a nation under the rule of law isn’t always convenient. Having what is supposed to be the world’s greatest criminal-justice system isn’t easy, has never been easy, and was never intended to be easy. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And if you can’t handle that, then don’t take the oath, put on the uniform, and draw the pay.

This won’t end well for Snowden no matter how it ends; I suspect the best he can expect is to live out his life in a hostile nation, a life that is likely to lose its value to that nation sooner rather than later. And if he does return to the U.S., he almost certainly faces most of the rest of his life in prison, if not a (formal) death sentence.

Even so, a nation that is supposed to operate under the Constitution that we say we operate under does not do summary executions, full stop.

(This probably won’t be my last word on Snowden’s case; it certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of that case. One point at a time for now.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:18 pm

You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.

And speaking of invaluable economist Dean Baker, he schools NPR, not that they’ll pay any attention:

This adjective ["enormous" -- Lex] appeared in a top of the hour news piece (sorry, no link [this NPR blog post uses the adjective "massive" -- Lex] referring to the spending bill approved by Congress on Wednesday evening. It would be interesting to know how it made this assessment. While the government spends more money each year than any of its listeners will see in their lifetime, it spends less relative to the size of its economy than almost any other wealthy country. It is also spending less relative to the size of the economy than it did in the years 2009-2012. The domestic discretionary portion of the budget, which was close to half of the spending bill, is smaller relative to the size of the economy than it has been in decades.

It’s a simple point, but one journalists at even the biggest outlets in the business can’t seem to learn: a number is meaningless — or, worse, misleading — absent context. I bolded the last part because although I want to shout this in all upper-case letters, I have chosen merely to emphasize it instead.

New York Times vs. New York Times

If a genie granted me three wishes, I wouldn’t waste one of them on this. But, damn, it would be nice if, at least once in a while, New York Times economics reporters would consult their columnist colleague Paul Krugman, who has, like, a Nobel Prize in the subject, before publishing bilge like this, particularly when Krugman could steer them to a large pile of research showing that he’s right and they’re wrong.

(h/t: Dean Baker)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 7:31 pm

Quote of the Day, shooting-a-guy-in-a-movie-theater-for-texting-during-the-previews edition

David Eggert in a comments section at Esquire.com:

We are ruled by a gun-society minority. We are not free as long as our security depends on the goodwill and peace of mind of the self-selected persons among us who feel a need, due to their own insecurities, to walk among us carrying lethal weapons.

Amen.

I believe in gun rights. I grew up with guns. I once carried one on the job. I am perfectly OK with concealed carry even today.

But.

It is still far, far too easy for guns to get into the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed. It is still far too easy for people who have no business possessing firearms to have them. And it is still far too easy for people who make money off guns, and their shills in the NRA, to shout down such reasonable proposals as background checks and mandatory training for gun owners, or limits on sales of large-magazine semiautomatic weapons, whose only purpose is to kill other human beings.

Any cops reporter in America can vouch for the fact that the American public is not in any way, shape, or form a well-regulated militia, especially on Saturday nights and long holiday weekends. And there are more guns in this country than ever even as fewer people own guns. A shrill and irrational minority is actively making the rest of us less safe. And we need to stop that. We have enough real dangers to face without also being forced to confront the imaginary fears of the elderly, the paranoid, and the people who have questions about their own masculinity.

 

Watch cable TV? Use the Internet? You’re about to get screwed.

So on Tuesday, a federal appeals court threw out Obama Administration “net-neutrality” rules, on the laughable grounds that Internet service providers (ISPs) are not common carriers. The amount of delusion required to make such a “factual” finding is only slightly less than that required to believe that one may walk directly from here to London on dry land.

The companies that sued to overturn the rulings have business  models that have been badly (and, frankly, deservedly) damaged by upstarts like Netflix. They brought this on themselves. So, naturally, this being a free market and all, they turned to the courts to impose burdens on their new competition, and, naturally, this being a free  market and all, the courts obliged them.

MisterMix at Balloon Juice summarizes nicely:

[The plaintiffs], who are almost all cable companies, are full of [expletive], because with their lagging TV business, they’re all scrambling to find ways to (a) kill off Netflix and substitute their own streaming offering and (b) charge hefty usage-based pricing for their internet service, which has roughly 95% profit margins already. Here’s how they’ll do it:

  1. The coming of “4K” streaming, which is a super high definition stream on next generation TVs, will use 3-4 times the amount of bandwidth that today’s high definition streams use. 4K users will blow out the caps that providers like Comcast have in place, opening the door for the cable boys to charge premium premium for users who have 4K TVs.
  2. The streaming services of the cable providers will be exempt from the bandwidth caps, so users who don’t want to pay more for bandwidth will have an incentive to switch to Comcast’s version of Netflix.
  3. Streaming providers who want to sell video to customers without busting the caps will be allowed to provide what AT&T Wireless calls “Sponsored Data”. This means that the streaming company will pay the cable company for the bandwidth their subscriber uses. The streaming company will pass on that cost to the consumer. (Note that AT&T can provide “Sponsored Data” without regulatory issues because wireless is exempt from net neutrality regulation.)

That’s the plan, they’re executing it slowly but with grinding efficiency, and the roadblocks the Obama Administration are throwing up in their path are getting overruled. And, by the way, they won’t be investing in their aging infrastructure, except in places where Google or some other fiber optic provider starts competing with them. This is how corporatism will make slowly but surely leave us in the dust behind countries that make Internet access a national priority.

Many, many countries, developed and developing, friendly and not-so, have correctly perceived that quality Internet infrastructure is at least as important as good roads, water systems, electrical grids and so on. Not all of them approach the issue in the same way on a public-vs.-private basis, but they all understand that quality, affordable Internet is an essential competitive tool in the global economy. Congress has refused to recognize this and has fought to prevent administration efforts to do so; the results, in terms of our ability to compete, are bad and getting worse. If the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn this ruling, Netflix being forced out of business — although it would piss me off — would be the least of our concerns compared with our national ability to compete in the global economic marketplace.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:13 pm

The problem with Republicans is that they want to make the whole country like Texas.

And how’s that working out?

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.

Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case.

The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy.

“I don’t understand why they would let the company that was accused of doing the wrongdoing conduct the tests,” said Shelly Perdue, who lives near the two wells in Weatherford, 60 miles (97 kilometers) west of Dallas. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Obviously Shelly Perdue is not fit material to run for office as a Republican.

“Those police officers are free now. How free do YOU feel?”

Digby writes about two California police officers acquitted of all charges after their beating to death of a mentally ill homeless man (himself the son of a former police officer) was caught on video. Read the whole horrible thing, including watching the embedded videos and following the links. Discussing a different case, she concludes:

I realize [cases involving mentally ill people] are tough situations for the police. Dealing with people who cannot comprehend your orders — or the stakes in refusal — makes it even tougher. But ask yourself why that officer couldn’t have walked behind the man rather than demanding that he turn around and shooting him full of electricity in the chest when he didn’t. The man’s hands are up, he’s presenting no threat. So often these things end up being a battle of wills rather than a means to an end. It’s one thing if thing if the person is clearly threatening, but too many times it’s police needing to demonstrate their authority. Needing to do that with people who are hearing lots of voices in their heads telling them all kinds of things already, is just pathetic.

Mentally ill people often live horrible lives in the streets of our towns and cities. They face danger from the elements, criminals and each other. And they often end up in police custody for a variety of reasons. Tasers (and worse) are cruelly used against them. It’s medieval.It goes without saying that without cameras taping this incident there would not be a trial.

In just such a case a few days ago in southeastern North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill, 90-pound teenager whom two other officers were holding down on a bathroom floor — after he had been tased. The two officers on the floor with him, one of whom had just tased him, were from the community, were familiar with the kid, and had pretty much talked him down from whatever rage he had been on when the third officer, from another jurisdiction, stormed in, and, within 70 seconds and reportedly after saying, “We don’t have time for this,” shot the kid and killed him in front of his horrified father. (And thank God the bullet didn’t go through the kid, ricochet off the floor, and kill or injure one or both of the officers holding him.)

Handling mentally ill people appropriately requires training, and the training that law-enforcement officers get — which primarily and for good reasons involves getting control of people and situations — needs to be adapted to include mentally ill people who pose no threat or a minor threat (the 18-year-old was holding a screwdriver) so that we don’t end up tasking our officers with executing the mentally ill.

In the case of the California cops acquitted of the beating death, I think the video, which you can find if you follow the links, is damning. The North Carolina case is just days old and it’s not clear yet whether any charges will be filed, although both the cops on the floor with the kid have officially been cleared.

But in both of these cases, if the cops have any consciences at all, they’ll be haunted by what they did for the rest of their lives. And that’s where the rest of us come in.

The job inevitably requires some cops to do things that will have that result. We owe it to our mentally ill brethren to balance the safety of others (including cops) against their well-being. And we who hire, train and pay cops owe it to them to train them well enough that if they ever have to use deadly force, the justification will be so clear that their consciences will be offered legitimate respite from what comes afterward. This is not an outcome that the current overmilitarization of U.S. law enforcement is likely to yield.

Monday, January 13, 2014 9:32 pm

Jon Stewart on Chris Christie

In case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen this yet (language NSFW, duh):

“We are losing men and women, and we should not be.”

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, an Army infantry officer who has served in Iraq, writes about the spike in suicides among service members and, especially, young veterans:

He wrote his suicide note in his own blood, as it was flowing out of him. It was addressed to me. He was apologizing for the administrative headaches that he anticipated his death would cause. …

Want me to go on? I can. Oh, how I can. But that would be beside the point.

The point is that we are losing men and women, and we should not be. Not now, not in the 21st century. We should see these signs and step in, and me and my Army are failing so far. But then, so are you. We can work to prevent the suicides of those in uniform. But we need you, all of you, to step in when the soldier is no longer a soldier, but a “veteran.”

The VA just put out new numbers. Suicides are spiking among young veterans.

… if you have a veteran with you, especially a young combat veteran, just keep a weather eye open. Talk, learn, listen, and pay attention. It really is not hard. Better that than looking back and remembering, and dreaming of what you might have [expletive] done differently, for the rest of your entire life. Believe me on that one friends. Believe.

If you or someone you know is a service member or veteran who needs help, call this hotline any time, 24/7, at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or visit veteranscrisisline.net. We already owe far too many of our veterans far too much. Let us not add unnecessarily to that debt, for their sakes and our own.

A $90 billion story about GM that I had not heard before

Filed under: Shooting the wounded — Lex @ 6:08 pm
Tags: , , , ,

From Ed at Gin & Tacos:

… did you know, despite this fact being absent both from Michael Moore’s ultra-liberal documentary and ten thousand mainstream media accounts of GM’s bankruptcy a few years ago, that the financial collapse of what was once the world’s largest corporation was precipitated by Roger Smith’s bright idea to replace all of the autoworkers with robots? True story. General Motors under Smith spent $90 billion on robotics and automation in nine years.

Think about that for a second. Ninety billion dollars. $90,000,000,000.00. Of course none of it worked, with factory robots breaking down constantly, painting one another, and welding car doors shut. It’s easy to say that the company got what it deserved and forget about it. But think for a second about the mindset of a group of people so committed to the concept of eliminating the workforce (and the UAW) that it would piss away ninety billion dollars trying to do it. Even if the Worker Bots worked flawlessly, how could that possibly make financial sense? How many decades and centuries of “savings” from lower wages to earn back those sunk costs? And how much money would the Robo-Factories demand in the future for maintenance, upgrades, and eventual replacement with newer and better technology? For $90 billion, GM simply could have purchased Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and most of its other foreign rivals – several times over. Of course, in that scenario they’d still have to pay people to make cars.

The fact is that General Motors didn’t go bankrupt, it committed financial suicide because its executive culture fostered a loathing for the UAW and the hourly workforce that was so extreme that it obliterated basic logic and business sense. The idea was not to replace the workers with Japanese robots (GM Robotics was acquired from Fujitsu) because it would save money; it was to replace the workers with robots because [expletive] the workers.

Phrased a little less colorfully, that mindset has put us where we are today, with the stock market, corporate profits and corporate cash on hand at all-time highs — not because of greatly increased sales, but mainly because of cost-cutting, primarily by laying people off.

Which raises a question I wish would become an integral part of the debate in any campaign for federal office: What is the purpose of the economy? Is it to make a very few individuals and large corporations fantastically wealthy? Or is it to create jobs in which people produce goods or services that other people want to buy? My bias on this question is pretty obvious, but I imagine a large majority of Americans share that bias. If so, then what role should government play and how should it go about playing that role? The GOP response for my adult lifetime has been lower taxes and fewer regulations, which not only has gotten us coming up on six lost years of economic activity but also is injuring, sickening and killing people while poisoning the planet, from Fukushima, Japan, to Charleston, West Virginia.

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.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 6:31 pm

One reason among many why Mitch McConnell is probably going to hell

Today he did this:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered on the Senate floor to extend unemployment benefits if the Obamacare individual mandate was delayed for a year. He claimed that they would “pay” for the unemployment benefits extension by killing Obamacare. The problem is that the ACA doesn’t add anything to the deficit.

In October when the CBO rescored the ACA, they found, “Those amounts do not reflect the total budgetary impact of the ACA. That legislation includes many other provisions that, on net, will reduce budget deficits. Taking the coverage provisions and other provisions together, CBO and JCT have estimated that the ACA will reduce deficits over the next 10 years and in the subsequent decade.”

McConnell was trying to eliminate something that reduces the deficit in order to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits. This is how delusional Republicans are about the ACA. They have invented their own reality on healthcare, and this includes their own version of a fiscal impact on the law that doesn’t exist.

People are losing homes and more because of long-term unemployment, and all Mitchell can do is play politics: He wants to kill a program that doesn’t add to the deficit in order to pay for some very basic help for people still out of work because (surprise!) there are still about three unemployed people for every available job.

(And where in the pluperfect hell was he when we needed to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and borrowed every dime of those trillions instead? Did he go along with a tax increase then? Hell,  no. And so we marched off and fought two wars for the first time in U.S. history without raising taxes to help pay for it.)

This is the behavior of a sociopath, and a delusional one at that. When you create your own reality, when you successfully sell yourself a line of bullshit, the result may include nontrivial numbers of homeless, hungry, or even dead people. And anyone who willfully and intentionally engaged in that behavior, knowing what its consequences will be (and that children will be, disproportionately, among the victims), deserves to go to hell.

Monday, January 6, 2014 8:48 pm

19th-century records in Franklin County destroyed

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I don’t know whether this happened out of malice or just ignorance, but either way it’s terrible: Franklin County, N.C., records dating to the 1840s and only recently re-discovered in a courthouse basement were destroyed, apparently before many of them could be cataloged.

Now, in fairness, N.C. law allows certain public records to be destroyed after certain periods of time. But it does not require them to be destroyed, and some records, such as land deeds, are supposed to be maintained pretty much in perpetuity. I’d like to think that everything was done correctly here, but, as the author points out, the way it was handled, we just don’t know. And even if nothing was destroyed illegally, there is a nontrivial possibility that a bunch of stuff that everyone from professional historians to amateur genealogists would like to look at is gone forever.

UPDATE: A follow-up post. More details, but no more real knowledge.

Friday, January 3, 2014 6:12 pm

Your liberal media, part the infinity

David Gregory had unindicted murder Elliott Abrams on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday, and if you want to know what’s wrong with American news media, this is it in a nutshell: They continue to give respectful (and, by “respectful,” I mean “fellating”) hearings to people who have been so wrong on substance so many times that no sane society would ever give them another hearing. I’ll outsource this to Charlie Pierce:

[Abrams was] described as a “foreign policy advisor to Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush” when, in reality, he is a bloodthirsty chickenhawk who, during the term of office he’d served prior to working for C-Plus Augustus, was party to a sprawling international conspiracy that involved selling missiles to Iran, funding our out private terrorist army in Central America, and lying to Congress about the whole business, which nearly got him indicted, but he dove into a sweet plea deal and then was pardoned anyway by President George H.W. Bush, who was hip-deep in the same foul mire, and who pardoned everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door. Prior to this, he had misled Congress about a massacre carried out by US-aligned military terrorists in a place called El Mozote in El Salvador. Part of his job there was to slander American reporters who tried to tell the country the truth about what its tax dollars were buying in Central America in those days. (By the way, the American people kept saying, over and over again, that they did not approve of what was being done in their name in places like El Salvador. But democratic norms meant nothing to Elliott Abrams and they mean nothing today.) He also repeatedly fudged the facts regarding the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero by a right-wing death squad in the middle of Mass.

Abrams’s undying cred with people like the folks who run Meet The Press is my problem, since we ostensibly share the same business. There are a hundred other conservative critics of the administration who MTP could have called to make the same case Abrams made yesterday — the administration is “withdrawing” from the Middle East, why are we not yet at war in Syria?, why are we not as yet bombing the hell out of Iran, Israel abandoned, etc, etc — who were not career disinformation specialists, and who did not lie to the country on the country’s own dime. Didn’t anyone there stop and think, geez, even on a holiday week, we can do better than to lend what’s left of our credibility and what’s left of the credibility of our show to a guy who has lied so extravagantly through his entire public career? Was there nobody on duty in upper echelons who remembers Iran-Contra? (It was in all the papers.) The only possible question for a moral journalist to pose to this guy is, “Why in the unshirted fk should we believe anything you say about anything ever?” and then move along to whatever banality Andrea Mitchell has teed up. …

The last time a president was as “bold” as Gregory wants this one to be, he lied us into a war that continues to wreak ruin to this day. Elliott Abrams was working for him at the time. The time before that, peasants got slaughtered and American nuns got raped and murdered, and archbishops got ventilated on the altar, and Elliott Abrams, to whom the Dancin’ Master directed his volley of bad history, cheered all of this on, lied about it as part of his official duties, and continues to believe that to have been the height of patriotism and public service. Ghosts of the dead should howl him awake every night. He should be spat upon by the surviving families of the dead every day on his way to teach his history class. History itself should vomit him out of its mouth. Journalism should revolt at the very sight of him. He should be whatever is one rung below a pariah. Instead, he gets a guest shot to tell the nation he has spent his career misleading into armed conflicts in which he never would have picked up a weapon or stood a post that its foreign policy is not blood-soaked enough for his taste. It was a living parable of the uselessness of dead memory.

I’m old enough to remember El Mozote. I’m old enough to remember Iran-Contra. And I’m still pissed about them. Therefore, you can begin, maybe, talking to me about a liberal media when blood-soaked clowns like Abrams cease getting respectful hearings from that media. Until then, just shut up.

 

Thursday, January 2, 2014 5:30 pm

Stuff I missed while having a life over the holidays, Too Big to Jail edition

It’s official: Big banks are now Too Big to Jail and therefore will never be held accountable, nor their executives jailed, under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act:

(Assistant Attorney General Lanny) Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.” …

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way.

And not only did they sell out to drug dealers, they sold out cheap. You’ll hear bragging this week by the Obama administration that they wrested a record penalty from HSBC, but it’s a joke. Some of the penalties involved will literally make you laugh out loud. This is from Breuer’s announcement:

As a result of the government’s investigation, HSBC has . . . “clawed back” deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

Wow. So the executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars will have to partially defer their bonuses during the five-year deferred prosecution agreement? Are you [bleeping] kidding me? That’s the punishment? The government’s negotiators couldn’t hold firm on forcing HSBC officials to completely wait to receive their ill-gotten bonuses? They had to settle on making them “partially” wait? Every honest prosecutor in America has to be puking his guts out at such bargaining tactics. What was the Justice Department’s opening offer – asking executives to restrict their Caribbean vacation time to nine weeks a year?

So you might ask, what’s the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC’s position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we’re talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you’re the prosecutor, you’ve got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they’ve ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby’s auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don’t think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn’t it? The only problem is, that’s exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.

It’s worth remembering, particularly for those of us who grew up along with Wachovia Bank here in North Carolina, that that bank, now part of Wells Fargo, settled with the Feds in 2010 for $110 million in forfeiture and a $50 million fine for laundering $378.4 billion — an amount equivalent to a third of Mexico’s GDP at the time. Then as now, no bank executives were charged; indeed, the bank hung its senior anti-money-laundering officer, Martin Woods, out to dry.

I get that there are good reasons (though not, in my personal opinion, a clearly convincing case) to keep, say, marijuana illegal for recreational use. But even if all laws banning marijuana use in the U.S. were scrapped today, the damage, though enormous in some individual cases, would be nowhere near the damage that is being done, right now, by decisions like this, to confidence in the U.S. finance system and, even more importantly, to the rule of law. Lanny Breuer ought to be named somewhere as an unindicted co-conspirator, at the least, and so should his boss, Attorney General Eric Holder. If Congress wants to impeach someone — and the GOP House, at least, certainly does — it could start with Holder without a peep of complaint from me as long as the charges pertained to his overwhelming failure to even try to rein in the banks during his term.

Friday, December 27, 2013 12:57 pm

And you thought the bursting of the housing bubble was bad …

From the Nov. 11 New Yorker (paywall) on a company called Climate Corporation that uses big data to project crop sizes for every field in the country and insures crops on the basis of that data:

(CEO David) Friedberg is convinced that climate change has the potential to alter land values dramatically, and soon. “We had this economic bubble because of a major housing crisis,” he said. [Strictly speaking, that's backward -- we had an economic crisis because of a (burst) housing bubble -- but forget it; he's rolling. -- Lex] “Residential real-estate values dropped, and the debt-equity ratio was so high that there were massive economic consequences for the nation. There is almost certainly a much more significant devaluation that needs to occur with land affected by climate change.” In Kansas, he noted, real estate trades at prices that make sense only if a farmer gets the kind of yield on an acre of corn that is now rare. “In parts of Kansas, farmers should simply not be growing corn,” Friedberg said. “Historically, you would have a heat wave every 20 years there. Now it happens every three years or so, and in those years the crops die.”

The Climate Corporation charges roughly forty dollars an acre to insure crops, and its customers farm more than ten million acres. Many of them give little credence to terms like “climate change” and “global warming.” That doesn’t bother Friedberg. “You don’t need to talk about climate change per se,” he told me. “Statistically, you are looking at a series of numbers. If it were a roulette wheel, you could say, ‘It’s coming up black more and more frequently.’ Can I attribute that to black being overweighted by the croupier? Or to the pit boss, or to the machine being broken? It doesn’t matter. Some people will argue that ice ages have waxed and waned for tens of millennia and that this is part of a natural cycle. That doesn’t change the fact that black is coming up more frequently and you will get less out of an acre of corn than you used to. The price for that land simply cannot be justified by the income it can generate.”

He went on, “It’s going to take a few climatic events in a row, I guess, and then everyone will say, ‘I’m not going to keep buying Kansas real estate at this price,’ or, ‘I’m not going to keep developing in this harbor zone in Florida.’ If you mark down all the stuff to what the discounted value should be — holy shit.” He practically shouted, “It is bad. I am convinced it is going to happen because, the math says it has to happen in at least one or two or three parts of the world. And if it happens at any of them at any point in the next ten years, it will make the housing crisis look small.”

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 12:58 am

The Gospel According to Pierce; or, A Christmas Prayer, With Carrion

And Pierce wrote, saying:

But this is the argument in season over these holidays. That the poor must suffer in order to be redeemed. That hunger is a moral test to be endured. That only through pain can we hope. What doesn’t destroy you, etc. Santa Nietzsche is coming to town. The idea that we should — hell, that we must — act out of charity for each other through the institutions of self-government is lost in the din of a frontal system of moral thunderation aimed at everyone except the person who is out there thunderatin’ on behalf of personal-trainer Jesus, who wants us to work, work, work on that core. That was the way that government operated once before; the specific institutions that Scrooge mentions, and with which the Spirit eventually reproaches him in his own words – the prisons, the union workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Laws – were all government institutions based on the same basic philosophy that drives the debate over the food stamp program today.(We even seem to be going back to debtor’s prisons.) We have speeches on self-reliance given by government employees to people who increasingly have only themselves on whom to rely, day after grinding day. It is a way to keep the poor from having a voice in their own self-government. It is a way to keep the wrath of the boy at bay. There will be a reckoning, one way or another. But it can be staved off by platitudes, and by verses from Scripture wrenched from the obvious context of the Gospels. The sepulchers brighten whitely while the bones inside grow increasingly corrupt. This is what this Congress believes, as it goes home proud of itself and its members dress themselves to sing the midnight carols with no conscience sounding in counterpoint, and this is Christmas in America, and it is the year of our Lord, 2013.

Merry Christmas to all, and tonight, God bless us, every one. But forgive me, Lord, in advance, for hoping and praying that the year of our Lord 2014 brings plague and pestilence upon those who would force the suffering to suffer further, those who would insist upon morality tests for the poor that they themselves could not pass, those who would require that many of our fellow Americans be denied a voice with which to insist anything. Bring on the plagues for them, turn their fruit into locust husks, their wine and water into blood, and their foie gras to feces, and let their corrupt bones and those of their first born be cast out from the whitely brightened sepulchers to be feasted upon by jackals and vultures.

Except for those who repent and atone. Always except for those.

Amen. And Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013 9:51 pm

An idle question

On what other issues besides this has the Iranian government been telling the truth while the U.S. government has been lying?

The New York Times does not understand Social Security

For evidence of this, I offer the following email exchange between me and D.C. bureau reporter Jonathan Weisman. I first wrote him regarding this article, in which he stated as fact:

Some conservatives feel betrayed, as they often have since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said the House Republican conference agreed in the spring that spending levels exacted by the sequestration cuts would not change unless Congress and the White House could strike an accord to control the long-term causes of the rising costs of the federal debt, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Leave aside for the moment that the actual biggest drivers of federal deficits, and thus the growing national debt, are, in fact, NOT entitlements:

The key fact on which I wish to focus is that Social Security does not contribute to the federal deficit AT ALL. This is a simple and widely understood fact with which the reporter took tendentious issue before throwing in the towel, as shown:

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:26 PM, <ordercs@nytimes.com> wrote:

Email: lex.alexander@gmail.com
URL:Your budget-deal story
Comments:Jon, how many times does it have to be said before it sinks into the heads of reporters for the Times Almighty? SOCIAL SECURITY DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEFICIT. It is funded by contributions that, since 1983, have been accumulating a large surplus to be used to pay retirement benefits to the Baby Boomers. Now that Baby Boomers have begun to retire, that surplus, which peaked at around $3 trillion, is being drawn down … just as planned in 1983. There is enough of a surplus that SocSec can pay 100% of expected benefit demands until the mid-2030s and, with continuing FICA withholding revenue, about 80% of benefit demands pretty much forever after that even if we do nothing at all to Social Security. And with small changes (raising the cap on income subject to FICA withholding), we could have SocSec paying 100% of benefits pretty much forever.

Once again: Social Security does not contribute in any way, shape or form to the government’s operating budget deficit. And this isn’t just a matter of opinion, this is an error of fact so egregious that it demands a published correction. My next stop is the public editor, for that very purpose.

Best,
Lex Alexander
Greensboro, NC
www.lexalexander.net

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:35 PM, Weisman, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:

You are simply wrong here. Since 2010, Social Security has been operating in deficit since 2010. As the annual trustees report said, Social Security’s “cash-flow deficit will average $75 billion between 2013 and 2018 before rising steeply” http://www.ssa.gov/oact/trsum/

It is true that the system is now cashing bonds it has been given by other parts of the government that have “borrowed” from its surplus over decades. But the fact is, every bond cashed must be paid in cash by the U.S. government and the taxpayers. Social Security as a system is not in debt yet. It is redeeming what is owed it. But those redemptions ARE driving the the debt upward, along with Medicare, Medicaid and other programs impacted by the aging baby boom.

On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 2:56 PM, Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com> wrote:

OK, fine, if you’re not going to believe me, how ’bout walking down the hall or picking up the phone and talking about it with your colleague Paul Krugman, OK? Or, hell, economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, or Brad DeLong at Berkeley, or … pretty much any half-sentient economist not on a corporate payroll. Will you do that for me? Please?

Best,
Lex
On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 3:01 PM, Weisman, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:

I am aware of their position on this. They are saying Social Security is solvent because it has trillions of dollars in bonds that are real and owed to it. That is true and it is a valid position. But Krugman, DeLong et al also know that as those bonds are redeemed, the cash must come from the Treasury. That is why Larry Summers wanted to wall off the Social Security surplus, to run large surpluses for the day when the bills come due. That did not happen. Now we are paying the piper. What liberal economists would say is it is simply unfair to make Social Security and its recipients pay for the rest of the government’s profligacy (and maybe theft).

Ask them. (Krugman is at Princeton, not in the building)

On Dec 12, 2013, at 4:27 PM, Lex Alexander <lex.alexander@gmail.com> wrote:

Had the government borrowed the money for its deficits from, say, a private bank, would you seriously argue that the private bank is contributing to the deficit? No, you would not; it would be ridiculous. But, in part, that’s exactly what the government did: It borrowed, in the form of U.S. bonds, not only from the Social Security Trust Fund but also from investment banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and individuals. So how is Social Security “contributing to the deficit” when these other bond holders are not? Or are you going to argue that they ALL are “contributing to the deficit”? That argument, though also basically silly, at least would have the benefit of being consistent and contextually complete.

Best,
Lex
On Dec 12, 2013, at 4:30 PM, Jonathan <jonathan.weisman@nytimes.com> wrote:
OK, whatever

Jonathan Weisman

New York Times
* * *
So that’s the kind of intellectual firepower the Times is assigning to the biggest domestic-policy story of the week. Good to know. I’ve emailed the Times’s public editor, for all the good that will do.
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