Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for May 27

Back from vacation. Let’s get to work, shall we?

The U.S. government is still good for something — in this case, finally taking on the continuing criminal enterprise that is FIFA. (My daughter has been saying for two years that the organization’s leaders were committing fraud and worse. She’s 16.) I suspect the reason we’re doing it instead of, say, Switzerland, is that we can — because soccer’s popularity here is so low that no one will raise much of a defense of the indefensible.

I love this pope. He has been, in the opinion of this outsider, better for the Roman Catholic church than anything since Vatican II. But he still has a couple of enormous moral blind spots.

Paid Microsoft support for the U.K. government’s many computers still running Windows XP ran out in April 2015. The transition to Windows 7 or 8.1 was supposed to be complete by now, but it isn’t for many government agencies, which will have to negotiate their own, much more expensive service deal with Microsoft. Meanwhile, those machines aren’t getting any more security upgrades and thus could become vulnerable to hacking. (I have a perfectly good XP machine that isn’t powerful enough to run Win7, so when Microsoft stopped providing security updates to consumers a year ago, I turned it into a Linux machine. Still works like a charm.)

My heart and some of my money are going out to the victims of Texas tornadoes and flooding. But I’ve got to point out a couple of things. First, the increasing severity of storms such as this is a direct result of increased mean atmospheric temperature. As we learned in school, the warmer air is, the more moisture it can hold, and the more moisture is in the air, the more severe storms are. So global-warming denialists in Texas, particularly in its government, really need to sit down and shut up now. Second, I assume that all the hot air from Texas politicians about the Jade Helm military maneuvers will now cease while those same politicians ask the federal government for millions in disaster relief. Right?

Quasi-relatedly, as H.L. Mencken observed (sort of), it is difficult to make a man understand something when his bonuses depend on his not understanding it. That’s especially true of climate-science deniers and extraction-industry executives. (Note that the market value of remaining extractable carbon fuel runs into the dozens of trillions, and we’d only need to burn another $1 trillion worth to screw ourselves sideways, climate-wise.)

Related to that, crony capitalism continues in Raleigh as extraction interests continue using their bought-and-paid-for legislature to fight solar energy. They have become more vicious because they are more desperate: They know that solar will become economically feasible for replacing more than half of global electricity generation within the next 10 years.

The Supreme Court ruled debtors’ prisons unconstitutional more than 30 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of places from jailing people just because of fines and/or fees they couldn’t pay.

Pretty much everyone who isn’t working in the White House or Congress understands that the NSA’s vast warrantless data-hoovering surveillance program isn’t worth what it is costing us in liberty. So, of course, N.C.’s senior senator, Richard Burr, is arguing for more of it.

At what point is N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory going to realize that the person running the state Department of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wosis incompetent?

And at what point will N.C. voters realize that McCrory himself is incompetent? He has staked his re-election on two proposed bond issues, one for highways and the other for other infrastructure — and hoping that voters won’t realize that if not for his misguided leadership and that of his legislative pals, much of this work could have been done through the ordinary state budgeting process, rather than sinking the state $2.8 billion into debt.

North Carolina doesn’t want to kill messengers. It only wants to sue and/or imprison them.

State officials (which is to say, mainly, state Republicans) are now into their fifth year of arguing that climate change isn’t really a thing, apparently not realizing or caring that “the Atlantic isn’t waiting to see who wins the argument.

Speaking of resisting the inevitable, N.C. lawmakers are still trying to stop gay marriage by unconstitutional means.

The chairman of the UNC System’s Board of Governors, John Fennebresque, says he wants a “change agent” to replace politically fired UNC System president Tom Ross. But he won’t say what he wants changed and says the board doesn’t have a job description even as it runs a nationwide search for Ross’s successor. Let’s be real clear here: Fennesbresque and the board wouldn’t come out and say they fired Tom Ross for political reasons because they knew the public wouldn’t stand for it. And they aren’t saying what they want Ross’s successor to do for the very same reason.

Steven Long, vice chairman of the academic planning committee of the UNC System’s board of governors, says regarding program eliminations, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.” No, schmuck. Education is a public good, and the state university system has a duty to provide benefits to the state as a whole, not just students whose preferred  majors happen to be momentarily popular.

So Charter Communications may buy Time Warner Cable, my personal cable/Internet provider. Is there any reason to think this would mean anything but higher prices and crummier service? Thought not.

Whew. I need another vacation.

 

Sunday, May 10, 2015 5:37 pm

Odds and ends for May 10

Hidy. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Your brain is your brain. Chuck Norris is your brain on drugs.

So good to see that the Baltimore officers implicated in Freddy Gray’s death were all the kind of stable individual to whom you want to give the power of life and death.

I had about given up on anyone doing anything to stop the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional hoovering of Americans’ data. This isn’t a fix, but it’s a start.

Good to see that job creation is back on track. We’re still far from where we need to be, though, and farther still on wage growth.

Saturday, February 7, 2015 11:11 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 7

“Pro-life” Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if you or your unborn baby dies.

A British court has found seven years’ worth of surveillance by the UK’s counterpart to the NSA to be illegal. Question: Will anyone be punished? Answer: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …

So Brian Williams is giving himself a paid vacation while he waits for the stink about his lying about his Iraq experience to blow over. Yes, he should be fired. No, he shouldn’t be the only person to suffer consequences for lying about Iraq.

Rummage in your bedside cabinet; the current condom shortage in Venezuela has boxes going for the equivalent of $755US.

‘Night, y’all.

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.

Thursday, August 1, 2013 6:32 pm

Why do I oppose a surveillance state? Must be the money.

Because arguing constitutional principles, righteous as they are, is getting us nowhere, we’ll have to argue financial principles. But maybe this argument will succeed where others have failed. James Fallows, prompted by an essay by John Naughton in the Guardian, explains:

In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.

  • American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
  • American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.

Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.

The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden — asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.

Other countries will refuse to do business with U.S. tech firms for the same reason they would if the U.S. were mixing corrosive chemicals in with its exported petroleum products: The product is tainted and will damage whoever/whatever uses it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010 11:35 pm

Catchin’ up on stuff; or, Odds and ends for Aug. 22

  • Questions more people need to be asking about the deficit, answered.
  • Why, if I lived near DC, I might be tempted to burn a Confederate flag at Glenn Beck’s upcoming rally.
  • I think the F-bomb has become a highly convenient excuse to keep adolescents from seeing a movie that shows how the American government screwed over an American hero and lied to his family.
  • Apparently it’s OK for American journalists to write highly inaccurate articles as long as they do so in the right (pun intended) way. Relatedly, these days, a DC journalist, given the choice between giving a deserved screwing to a colleague and giving an undeserved screwing to the American people in general, will screw the American people every time.
  • Governmental foot-dragging has its intended effect: Tom DeLay walks free. There are no consequences. There is no accountability. Rule of law? Ha.
  • The Internet will be the death of the music bidness as we’ve known it. Of course, no one who has known it will shed a tear, but that doesn’t mean the bidness is going down without a fight. Now they’re partnering with the National Association of Broadcasters, another powerful lobby, to try to get the government to mandate the inclusion of FM radio in future cell phones. Good luck with that. Oh, and die already.
  • The question isn’t why “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger “quit” her radio show after dropping about 11 N-bombs. The question is why any responsible broadcaster ever allowed someone with such obvious mental problems on the air dispensing advice in the first place.
  • Despite rising wheat prices caused by Russia’s drought-driven ban on exports, U.S. wheat farmers aren’t sure they should plant more wheat. Why? They’re pretty sure the wheat market is rigged, just as it was a few years ago. Now someone explain to me again what social utility investment bankers serve. Relatedly, Harper’s makes the case that they’re just playing games with the world’s food supply.
  • August: Stupid American Month.
  • If The New York Times or CNN had contributed $1 million to the Democratic Governors Association, do you think the country would have responded with such a yawn? Me, neither.
  • So will all the Wikileaks critics shut up now that the Pentagon’s own evidence shows Wikileaks tried to work with the Pentagon to redact sensitive information but was rebuffed? Yeah. I thought not.
  • The oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster? Government reports to the contrary, it’s mostly still out there.
  • When it comes to protecting our rights and our privacy, those commies in Europe are eating The Land of the Free’s lunch.
  • You know how the government has always claimed Guantanamo detainees are “the worst of the worst”? In fact, the government lacks enough evidence to charge 3/4 of them with any crime at all.
  • The $75 billion Home Affordable Mortgage Protection Act is a bust … because Congress, after approving the money, did nothing to ensure that bankruptcy judges would use so-called “cramdown” provisions to make sure the money would do what it was supposed to do. What has happened instead has left a lot of homeowners even worse off than if the government had done nothing and has hampered the recovery of the housing market. And the administration hasn’t bothered to try to get Congress to do the right thing. Heckuva job all the way around.
  • Memo to Army Maj. Gen. Charles E. Chambers: Your punishing soldiers who opted not to attend a concert by an evangelical Christian rock band should carry punishment of its own: loss of your stars and your pension. You violated your oath to protect the Constitution, General, plain and simple.
  • Robert Frank has an interesting proposal that could help both government and consumers: The government should buy up consumer debt, on which consumers are paying 20% and up, and charge consumers 8%. This would put more disposable income in consumers’ hands and give the government a substantially better return on its investment than the 2.8% or so that 10-year bills currently are paying. It makes so much sense that there’s zero chance Congress will pass it because it would hurt deny banks their current flow of blood money.
  • Shorter Paul Volcker: Lending deregulation was bad because allowing higher interest payments on risky sub-prime loans encouraged banks to make more risky loans.
  • Barry Ritholtz: We’re good at saying “What if we had done nothing?” about the bailout, but an even better question is, “What if we had done the right thing?”
  • COOL (as it were): Scientists are working on a way to use carbon dixoide and certain kinds of bacteria to convert crude oil into cleaner-burning methane — while the oil is still in the ground. A separate effort is working on using solar power to convert CO2 to carbon, or carbon monoxide to, in turn, synthesize hydrocarbon fuels.
  • I have found my Official Anthem for the Summer of 2010. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too R-rated to link to, but I’ll give you a hint: It’s by Cee-Lo, from his forthcoming album.
  • Colombian Supreme Court to U.S. military: Don’t let the sun set on you in Bogota. Oops.
  • Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, leaves the Wall Street Journal and tears U.S. news media several new orifices on the way out the door (whether he also grabbed a beer is not clear).
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has apologized for a blog post suggesting that the male-female wage gap and the glass ceiling aren’t real problems, which might actually mean something if it would apologize for everything else it has said and done in that same vein for the past several decades. But it won’t, so it doesn’t.
  • The American Family Association apparently believes our soldiers in Iraq died for nothing. Actually, so do I, inasmuch as that war was illegal from the git. But you know why the AFA believes it? Because Iraq is not a Christian nation.
  • Would someone who considers him/herself a deficit hawk and supports extending George Bush’s tax cuts for millionaires please explain to me how we can afford to do that but cannot afford to put people to work?
  • And, finally, this week’s tasteless joke, from D. Aristophanes at Sadly, No!:

A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero. The bartender says, ‘What’re you drinking?’ and the imam orders him beheaded because sharia law dhimmitude Allahu Akbar alalalalalalalalala flabberty jabberty jabber etc. etc.*

You’ve been a great crowd! We’re here all week!

*Also the priest molests the bartender’s kids and the rabbi drinks their blood.

Friday, April 10, 2009 9:09 pm

Do as I say …

I’m a little late to this disturbing tactic by the Obama administration: continuing to use the same “state secrets” argument that the Bush administration did to try to shield itself from lawsuits. There’s a pretty blatant hyprocrisy visible here:

Last Friday, Obama’s Justice Department infuriated some legal observers by invoking the “state secrets privilege” in a lawsuit [filed by the Electronic Fronter Foundation] against the government over warrantless wiretapping. As multiple legal experts told reporter Zachary Roth, this means the Obama administration has now adopted one of Bush’s most controversial legal tools — the invocation of national security to justify government secrecy and shield it from legal action.

Obama attacked Bush’s use of it during the campaign. Indeed, Obama’s campaign Web site still identifies Bush’s use of the tactic as a “problem” that created undo “secrecy” and needs to be changed.

Certainly, invoking “state secrets” will be justified at times. But a judge ought to allow it only after the most stringent review, with the strongest presumption toward making things public, and with any restrictions as narrowly tailored as possible. That didn’t happen during the Bush years, I have no reason to think that’s what’s happening now, and I am disturbed that the Obama administration appears to think that whatever it’s doing now is good enough.

But what’s even more disturbing is that the Obama folks are pushing an argument that not even the Bush folks attempted: They’re saying that under the Patriot Act, the government is immune from lawsuits (under, say, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) over illegal surveillance unless the government itself chooses to disclose what it has. Glenn Greenwald has more here.

Novel though that argument is, it makes a mockery of both existing statutes and the Bill of Rights. The courts need to slap it down, hard. I wish I were optimistic that they would do so.

Even if the Obama folks have the best of intentions, they will someday be succeeded by folks who do not. The first tactic is a dangerous tool whose use ought to be strictly circumscribed. The second ought to be tossed out entirely.

Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:10 pm

Keeping an eye on the surveillance problem

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 12:10 pm
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This is cool, not only from a technological standpoint, not only for what it might mean for restoring lost vision, but also for the ramifications it might explore of an increasingly surveilled society:

A one-eyed documentary filmmaker is preparing to work with a video camera concealed inside a prosthetic eye, hoping to secretly record people for a project commenting on the global spread of surveillance cameras.

Surveillance cameras have helped solve crimes — they are not an unalloyed evil. But we are a society that, while it increasingly gives up privacy through blogs, Facebook, reality TV shows and other media, still expects some measure of privacy and expects control over when and when not to give it up. If Rob Spence can shed additional light on those and related issues, his project will be invaluable.

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