Saturday, June 29, 2013

Conservatives' Proclivity for Working Against Their Own Self-Interests

I've long felt that conservatives, especially those with a libertarian bent, tend to work against what's best, in the long run, for their own kind, not to mention the U.S. in general. I don't recognize this tendency in liberals, at least nowhere near the extent that I have in conservatives.

A snap judgment, and one I'm prone to make, is that labels like "conservative," "libertarian," Christian," "free-market advocate," and "fiscally conservative" are just a cover-up for those that work the Big Grift, by which I mean the loosely organized machine that is actually motivated to get what they can while they can. That explains why their policies almost exclusively favor the rich at the expense of the middle and lower classes.

The rich then reward them handsomely, while not a few middle- and lower-class suckers are swept up around the margins of the grift. Yeah, fuck Socialist Obama! Here's $5!

Former House majority leader Dick Armey says he took an $8 million consulting deal
in return for leaving the conservative organization FreedomWorks because the group
was "dishonest" and because he "couldn't leave with empty pockets." The arrangement,
he says, will allow him to "never have to work again forever." (courtesy ABC News)

Dick Armey is a classic example of the Big Grift, only he ain't working against his own self-interests. None of the Big Grifters are, see Karl Rove, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Jim Demint, Dick Morris, etc., etc.

Looking away from the Grift and to the movement's true believers, or at least at the political actors that day in and day out maintain that the conservative/libertarian ideology is superior and good for the country, we first have to come to grips with why it is that any of them would think it's good for the country.

Before I go too far, I have to confess that even those Republicans not obviously on the Grift always appear to me to believe helping the rich will "trickle down" to them, and let's face it, it does. While direct party fundraising is surprisingly even, outside money, greatly increased by the Citizens United SCOTUS decision, redounds to the benefit of conservatives by about a 2-1 margin. Hence, the Big Grift being dominated by conservatives. But even those not actively participating in the money grab still depend greatly on it.

Giuliani and Robertson: Two conservatives who have perfected the Big Grift.

And don't think I don't notice that the Democrats play similar games, if not nearly so large or obvious. You only have to watch someone like New York senator Chuck Shumer -- who we can depend on as a consistent supporter of liberal causes -- when it comes to banking and Wall Street. Shumer will always play to his base, the banksters; he makes up for it by not cutting the crap out of welfare.

So there you are. Now, why would conservatives take the stands they do (money grubbing and grifting notwithstanding)? Here's what I think conservatives should be for:
  • The environment. It's not called "conservation" for nothing.
  • More efficient transportation, whether it be cars, trains, planes, and ships. If that leads to the shrinking of the fossil-fuel industry, great! Fossil fuels make us beholden to foreign influence. Conservatives don't like that.
  • Better oversight of banking and Wall Street. Demanding higher reserves, more cautious lending, and lower levels of leveraged investment would seem the more fiscally conservative approach.
  • More efficient, leaner armed forces. Wouldn't that trim the budget?
  • Food stamps. This money can only be spent by the economically disadvantaged on food. Who does that directly advantage? For the most part, American farmers, distributors, and retailers.
  • Free birth control. It would -- and, under Obamacare, will -- greatly reduce abortions.
  • Immigration reform will be GOOD for business. Seriously. Conservatives, own immigration reform before it owns you!
You get the drift. Fact is, though, conservatives are not for those things. Why?
  • Environmentalism is viewed as bad for business.
  • More efficient transportation smacks of socialism and runs against fierce individualism. Bubba must have his big-ass pickup! And there's not a lot of coal and oil/gas in blue states except maybe CA.
  • The prevailing belief among bankers and Wall Streeters is that free markets rule. Uh, they don't, but try telling that to the grifter class! I get that it's easier to make big money around the margins of financial chaos, i.e. bubbles are great! (Until they pop.)
  • The military-industrial complex makes piles of money and is wide open for corruption. Why shut that gravy train down just because it kills people?
  • Food stamps are for poor, hungry people and we hate them.
  • White Christian males want to control women, and it's easier when they're pregnant, so no pill for you, and sex on my timetable!
  • Can't support immigration because those immigrants, well, they're brown and eat too much corn.
And so on. I didn't even bring up income inequality, which in the long wrong will wreck the economy. Fact is, Christian conservatives should hate income inequality (What would Jesus do?), but they don't because it proves that winners are winners and losers go to Hell because God sez so.

Crystal Cathedral in Southern California has gone bankrupt.
What would Jesus do? Cut food stamps? Beg for double-tithing?
Rev. Schuller did. What would Dick Morris do? Donate his email
list for a cut of the take? Oh yeah.

Left in all this mess are the middle- and lower-class white Christian conservatives who think if they pray hard enough, their taxes will go down and their bank account will go up. It doesn't work that way, but don't hold your breath waiting for Fox News, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, or Reince Priebus to tell them.

Fun factoid: The Crystal Cathedral Ministries went broke anyway, despite Rev. Schuller's pleas for double-tithing. So, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the Crystal Cathedral for over $57 million and gave the Ministries an old Catholic church, St. Callistus, that's about a zillionth the size. My only question is: Who has Christ's ear on this one?

The Crystal Cathedral Ministries' new home at the former St. Callistus
Catholic Church. The Ministries have decided to keep the "Hour of Power"
name from their old TV show. The dream never dies!

Sorry my storyline went off the rails a bit. Hey, it's Saturday, and anyway, Orange County, the home of this Christian drama, is as conservative as it gets. Well, at least until the Hispanics take over...

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Nub of the Leaks Debate

Obligatory Edward Snowden pic:

I chose the one that makes him look like a bath salts abuser.

The leaks debate has been an interesting one, with lots of different opinions around the good guy/bad guy divide. There are Edward Snowden detractors on both the left and the right, as well as the usual hatchet jobs by the Beltway press corps behaving as the government stenographers they are.

There are exceptions to the rule, such as TPM's Josh Marshall's thoughtful contrarian view -- for a blogger from the left -- that we're members of the club called the U.S.A. and sometimes need to begrudgingly side with our fellow club members for better or for worse:
My reaction to Snowden isn’t tied to my being a journalist. If anything it’s in spite of it. It’s as part of this national community, as someone who buys into its basic structures, for all their problems. I’m a part of this club. And I try to keep that in mind whether I like what the club is doing at a given time or not. As I wrote in the first piece, I don’t like everything the US military does. But I do think there should be a US military. I also think it requires a significant amount of secrecy to operate. So I don’t think I can just wash my hands of it and say it has nothing to do with me just because I’m not part of the chain of command. When innocent civilians are killed in Pakistan or Yemen, I’m on the line for that just as I benefit from its protection in numerous ways.
I'm not with you on this one, Josh, even as you craft the most eloquent defense of our realpolitik. It's thoughtful, and I must say I'd rather be in your "club" than not. Except I prefer the rabble-rousing Glenn Greenwald's approach that says "you want some journalistic bright lines, I'll give you some bright lines and capitulating to beltway stenographers is contemptible. I'm not in that club, sir!"

Yeah, me neither. But, in the end, Josh Marshall's stance is a defensible one. But here's the rub. This ain't ping pong, or T-ball, or what-have-you. The government is smacking us around on this one, and it takes a keen mind to understand its ramifications. As in many cases, I found the nub of the debate over at digby's Hullabaloo, with two vital posts, one written by digby herself and the other by her fellow Hullabaloo writer, David Atkins. First Atkins:
The U.S. intelligence apparatus is selectively leaking material that it finds "appropriate," using secret judgments none of the rest of us are privy to, while condemning leaks from outside the system. That makes a mockery of the universal rule of the law. Either all leaks are OK, or none are. There's a debate to be had about that question, but intellectual consistency demands taking one side or the other. One simply cannot support these government-sanctioned leaks while opposing Snowden's without falling back on plainly totalitarian logic that justifies whatever the government does in the name of national security. There's no space here between the Peter King right and the pro-Administration pseudo-left if one does not roundly denounce the government's selective leaks.

If someone denounces Snowden and Greenwald but claims to be to the left of Peter King, they must also denounce the government's selective leaks and demand prosecution of those involved, or lose all credibility and claims to intellectual consistency. To selectively defend or extol lawbreaking behavior depending on who is in office and what issue is being defended, is the worst sort of political hackery and hypocrisy.
That's it, right there. You can stick your "rule of law" if that's the way you play the game. Now digby hits it from a slightly different angle, talking about Colorado senator Mark Udall and his anger at government leaks -- that show the government is a good light -- from a congressional study on the CIA that Udall can't make public:
With all the hoopla over Edward Snowden's narcissism and Glenn Greenwald's student loan debt, (as well as lots of handwringing about whether we are good citizens if we question the government's policies on matters pertaining to national security and surveillance of its own citizens) I cannot help but wonder why people who think that a grave injustice has been done to our country by these radicals "with an agenda" don't turn their wrath on this fellow: Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, who has been raising hell about such things for years. [...]
Mark Udall is not some lowly blogger or nutty computer geek. He's a US Senator and he's he's saying outright that your government is lying to you. Worse, it is lying to your face through ongoing leaks, even as it has declared war on anyone who leaks in ways that are unflattering. [...]
I suppose it's always possible that they do believe that  Mark Udall is some kind of radical freak right along with that alleged fanatic Greenwald and looney-tunes Snowden. In fact, you pretty much have to believe that if you are willing to discount what he is saying here.

What we are dealing with is the fact that government believes leaks are just fine as long as they show the government in a good light. And that is what is otherwise known as propaganda:  people in this country should know only what the government wants it to know. And it is ruthlessly punishing anyone who deviates from prescribed authorized leaking. Is that really necessary to keep the nation secure from terrorists?
That's it, again, right there. The Obama administration can leak all it wants when it supports the government view, but they'll lock you up if you leak something negative. Sounds pretty fascistic to me.

Speaking of fascism, I flagged this story from David Atkins' Twitter feed. They hate us for our freedom, really? Oh, but maybe not in the U.S. Army:
The Army admitted Thursday to not only restricting access to The Guardian news website at the Presidio of Monterey, as reported in Thursday's Herald, but Armywide.
Presidio employees said the site had been blocked since The Guardian broke stories on data collection by the National Security Agency.
Those poor, itty-bitty soldiers. They want the truth? They can't handle the truth!

We'll censor your Internet and you'll like it, grunts!

I'll say this about Josh Marshall's view: I don't like what's happening to my club, and the leaks "debate" illustrates the problem in the starkest way. And that's why we'll have our Edward Snowdens and why we desperately need our Glenn Greenwalds. And, of course, digby.

Update. Apparently the censorship -- plus a mix of intimidation -- is broader. Read about it at firedoglake.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Red States Moving to Restrict Voting

Didn't take long. But why only red states? Oh, yeah, Republicans can't win if they play fair:
Less than 48 hours after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, six of the nine states that had been covered in their entirety under the law’s “preclearance” formula have already taken steps toward restricting voting.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court’s five conservative justices ruled Tuesday that the formula, which required states with a history of racial discrimination to “preclear” changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice or a federal judge before enforcing them, was unconstitutional. Since then, these six states have already started moving on restrictions, many of which have adverse effects on the abilities of minorities, young people, and the poor to exercise their right to vote.
Which states?
  • Texas.
  • Arkansas.
  • Virginia.
  • South Carolina.
  • Mississippi.
  • Alabama.
Sound familiar?

You know what would be interesting? What if some people never gave up on the Confederacy? Wait, there are some people here, here, and here.

Let's get our Civil War on. It was so much fun the last time. All the songs about it are so happy.

Is Dixie on the mend? Depends on what the meaning of "mend" is.

Republicans "React" to New Political Landscape

Was the divided reality of U.S. politics and culture roiled by the Supreme Court decisions, coming as they did in the middle of the immigration debate.

Let's do a survey of white-wing not-so-much reactions as a combination of re-uppings, restatements, and regressions:

First, remember how the Republican Party will languish nationally if they aren't at least perceived as being a little bit Latino friendly? Well, not if Alabama senator Jeff Sessions can help it:
WASHINGTON -- Day after day, Sen. Jeff Sessions argues against an immigration overhaul bill that GOP party leaders, and a sizable share of his Republican colleagues, say is critical to any chance of a national comeback for the party out of power in Washington.
The legislation headed for passage in the Senate would cost the nation jobs and depress wages, Sessions says in the Judiciary Committee, on the Senate floor, in hallway interviews and to just about anyone who asks. It's not paid for, he argues. Nor, Sessions adds, would it guarantee better border enforcement.
Lawmakers don't really know what the bill does, seeing that it consumes 1,100 pages, according to Alabama's junior senator.
The 66-year-old former prosecutor used a similar approach to help defeat an immigration overhaul in 2006 and 2007, when a president of his own party, George W. Bush, declared it a priority. Now that Democrat Barack Obama has it atop his domestic agenda, Sessions is again the face of Republican opposition to a path to citizenship for millions of people living in the U.S. illegally. The playing field has changed since then, but the path toward a bill actually becoming law is no clearer than it was six years ago now that a sizable tea party faction holds sway in the House.
 As for Republican support for the gay, which after today are no longer the pariahs they were twenty or thirty years ago, let alone just yesterday, don't expect the straight-wing Republicans to hop aboard the love-who-you-want love train:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) blasted the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it "wrong."
"I don’t think the ruling was appropriate," Christie said Thursday on his "Ask the Governor" radio show, according to Politico. "I think it was wrong."
Christie criticized the justices, calling Kennedy's opinion "incredibly insulting" to President Bill Clinton -- who signed DOMA into law in 1996 -- and to the "340-some members of Congress who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act."
"[Kennedy] basically said that the only reason to pass that bill was to demean people," Christie said. "That’s heck of a thing to say about Bill Clinton and about the Republican Congress back in the ‘90s. And it’s just another example of judicial supremacy, rather than having the government run by the people we actually vote for."
In February 2012, Christie rejected a bill allowing same-sex marriage in New Jersey, vetoing the measure and renewing his call for a ballot question to decide the issue.
Great. Chris Christie, the new, pugnacious, pragmatic "face" of the Republican Party actually feels Bubba's pain. That's rich. And putting it on the ballot? Sounds democratic, but it'll never happen, and, uh, Chris, you'd get your butt kicked anyway. And if you did get it on the ballot and win, boy, will that get you cred on the national stage, where it's already over. Real smart for a guy wanting to run in 2016. Or does he?

As for voting rights, the white-wing Republicans aren't wasting any time going after "voter fraud." With the ink barely dry on the Voting Rights Act decision, red states get ready to keep it that way, with voter ID laws set to be rammed through now that no one can "scrutinize" them:
With the Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday on the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi and Texas announced they're ready to move forward with their controversial voter identification laws.
Eleven states in the past two years have approved laws that would require voters to show identification at voting booths. But Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required some of those states with a history of voter discrimination to get "precleared" by the federal government before making any changes to voting laws.

A separate part of the law known as Section 4 relies on a federal formula to determine which states would be covered under that "preclearance" regime.
Requests by Texas and Mississippi for clearance in their voter ID laws were pending with the federal government when the high court struck down the constitutionality of the act's Section 4 on Tuesday, which also appears to have nullified Section 5.
I wonder how many of those eleven states set to pass new laws or declare their old attempts to now be established law are red states. All of them would be my guess. Just why is that? No voter fraud in blue states? (Hint: no voter fraud anywhere.)

As for the gay marriage issue, the straight-wing Republicans have a problem:
Both House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia signaled that they believed the debate now moves out of the purview of Congress and to the states.
"While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances," Mr. Boehner said in a statement. "A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had no comment on the rulings. A spokesman said only that he supports "traditional marriage."
To date, three of the Senate's 46 Republicans support gay marriage, with all of them having shifted to that view in recent months.
Right on cue, we've got the first Republican -- from Kansas, no less -- coming out for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage:
The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional isn't stopping Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) from trying to block same-sex marriages through another route: by amending the U.S. Constitution.
Huelskamp said he plans to introduce the Federal Marriage Amendment later this week, a measure that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. DOMA did the same thing, but was a federal law, not a constitutional amendment. As such, the Federal Marriage Act is more far-reaching but also a tougher climb. It requires the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate, and ratification by three-fourths of the states, or 38 states.
"This would trump the Supreme Court," Huelskamp told The Huffington Post.
Good. Let's just trump that mean ole (conservative) Supreme Court.

Josh Marshall of TPM puts the Voting Rights Act Republican conundrum in perspective:
Of course, maybe I’m wrong. But how many Republicans want to vote against “the Voting Rights Bill” in the Senate. I think very few. So maybe it dies there. But at the cost of a lot of pain for the GOP. I’m not even sure they’d need 60 votes. And I suspect they’d get a lot more.
So now we have “the Voting Rights Bill” passed out of the Senate and lands over at the House. Does Boehner invoke the Hastert Rule and refuse to bring it to a vote because a majority of his caucus doesn’t support it? Quite possible. But again, toxic politics.
I strongly suspect that you’d have a lot of GOP elites - and by that I just mean professional Republicans at the national level who are concerned about winning national elections - really not liking that outcome. And I also suspect there’d be a non-trivial number of Republican representatives who’d be saying, hey I don’t want to be part of this, for a mix of political reasons and reasons of simple belief. At the same time you’re going to have a lot of members from the South who are going to have a hard time putting their state legislatures back under the review of the dread ‘Obama Regime Justice Department.’ Taken together it puts the sectional divisions within the GOP under real pressure.
One thing I’m certain of is that it’s a situation the GOP really really wants to avoid.
So to come back to the beginning, I’m not saying this or the next Congress will be able to resurrect section 4 of the VRA. On balance, I figure it doesn’t happen. But if the attempt is made, every step along the way is going to be acutely painful for the GOP.
Very true, Josh.

 I just found this video of Stephen Colbert explaining all this with the help of Slate's Emily Bazelon. Let's let them have the last word:

We should just let Stephen Colbert run the country. He'd make the zaniest dictator. He just might be able to straighten us out. He could appoint Jon Stewart to the Supreme Court. That would sure straighten them out.

Update. Boy, do the Supremes need some straightening out. Right on cue, they toss the blocking of the Texas Voter ID law as well as the nullification of the anti-minority Texas redistricting, both of which then could immediately become law, pending lower-court review. This is going to be some wild ride. Watch the red states for signs of whiplash.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Disunited States of America

Feeling dysfunctional? Don't worry, the Supreme Court feels your pain.

The Supreme Court has in its latest rulings divided America into the free states (mostly blue) and the unfree states (mostly red). It's also divided our political system into the white-wing Republican Party and the multi-colored-wing Democratic Party. It's also divided us into the discriminatory states and the non-discriminatory states, which will essentially track the red-state/blue-state divide. Also tracking this divide will be whether a state is gay-friendly or gay-unfriendly, is women-friendly or women-unfriendly. A side effect will be that the divide also tracks Obamacare support or Obamacare non-support, which also creates a poor-friendly/poor-unfriendly divide. They also strengthened, with their business-friendly decisions, a nationwide divide between workers and businesses.

What we now have is the start, or re-start, of a new, long, seething Civil War.

Way to go Supremes! In the Fuck Up a Reasonably Decent Country Olympics, you've won five gold medals.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Yes, We Have No Surveillance State (Shh, Pass It On...)

Today various news stories combine to show the sorry state of our federal government, proving the useful rule that you don't have to be paranoid to believe that people are out to get you. Because, it truth, they are, especially if you're in government.

Story one, from McClatchy via Digby at Hullabaloo:
Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.
 Great. We're turning our entire government workforce into snitches. That's going to be real fun. We could all go to the bar after work and vote on who to rat out next. Wait, no we couldn't. That might be considered sedition, and we'd all be required to turn each other and ourselves in. Good grief.

Story two, from the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency’s recently revealed surveillance programs undermine the purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was established to prevent this kind of overreach. They violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. And they underscore the dangers of growing executive power.
This is from Laura K. Donohue, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law. Looks like she got it right, though I'd hate to find out what Antonin Scalia might think.

And finally, story three, in video form:

And this tidbit at the end of the interview:

Some country we've got here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yes, There Is No Communications Privacy, Virginia

Edward Snowden wanted a "conversation" about U.S. wiretapping programs and policies, and, boy, did he start one. In today's Washington Post, Barton Gellman, who shared the byline with Laura Poutras in the revealing articles in the Post based on leaked information from Snowden, writes an expansive article on the state of current government surveillance of our communications, and it doesn't look good, as in they have access to everything, all the time. The key graphs are disturbing:
The Post has learned that similar orders [to the Verizon order] have been renewed every three months for other large U.S. phone companies, including Bell South and AT&T, since May 24, 2006. On that day, the surveillance court made a fundamental shift in its approach to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits the FBI to compel production of “business records” that are relevant to a particular terrorism investigation and to share those in some circumstances with the NSA. Henceforth, the court ruled, it would define the relevant business records as the entirety of a telephone company’s call database. [emphasis mine]
Got that? Before that ruling, the government would have to suspect a particular connection between two or more "communicators" and apply for just those "relevant" records. The FISA court chose to define the "relevant" records to be the entirely of all companies' records.

We've been had. It gets worse:
When the NSA aims for foreign targets whose communications cross U.S. infrastructure, it expects to sweep in some American content “incidentally” or “inadvertently,” which are terms of art in regulations governing the NSA. Contact chaining, because it extends to the contacts of contacts of targets, inevitably collects even more American data.
Current NSA director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have resolutely refused to offer an estimate of the number of Americans whose calls or e-mails have thus made their way into content databases such as ­NUCLEON.
What's NUCLEON? Well...:
The other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called ­NUCLEON.
Okay, that's nice. Read the whole article. It combines important history for context and elaborates on the implications of this past week's revelations. Pretty chilling stuff.

Another article I found -- from CNET -- elaborates on information revealed by Rep. Jerry Nagler (D-NY). It's title tells it all: "NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants." Key revelations:
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."
If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
Not only does this disclosure shed more light on how the NSA's formidable eavesdropping apparatus works domestically, it also suggests the Justice Department has secretly interpreted federal surveillance law to permit thousands of low-ranking analysts to eavesdrop on phone calls.
Because the same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages, Nadler's disclosure indicates the NSA analysts could also access the contents of Internet communications without going before a court and seeking approval.
 Do you remember how skeptical reporters and commentators were when Edward Snowden said he could listen to anybody's communications -- even a president -- if he had their email address? I'm no longer skeptical. Snowden apparently was right.

This story, unlike Benghazi, the IRS, and other "scandals," keeps growing and growing. Stay tuned. Your government already is...

Update. I found this revealing video that shows Nadler being a little cagey with FBI Director Robert Mueller:

A pretty polite way of saying you just lied to me. A lot of that going around these days.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Secret Courts Equal Secret Decisions, and the Internet Gets Powned

Yahoo! went to secret court, secret lost.
We're secret doomed. Somebody blow their secret whistle!

Here's the crux of the matter:
In a secret court in Washington, Yahoo’s top lawyers made their case. The government had sought help in spying on certain foreign users, without a warrant, and Yahoo had refused, saying the broad requests were unconstitutional.
The judges disagreed. That left Yahoo two choices: Hand over the data or break the law.
So Yahoo became part of the National Security Agency’s secret Internet surveillance program, Prism, according to leaked N.S.A. documents, as did seven other Internet companies.
There it is in a nutshell: A secret court delivers a secret decision that Yahoo! can't appeal because it's secret.

I'm not conspiracy-driven, and this isn't even a conspiracy. It's just a bad law that won't let itself be tested in the courts. This is not fucking America, or maybe it is.

Lindsey Graham is all for censoring the mail.
Thank god there's no model for an overreaching state.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why the NSA Is Screwed

Cyrus Nemati, in a Future Tense article entitled "Dear NSA: You Need Hackers Like Me, but We Don't Need You" for Arizona State University, New America Foundation, and Slate put it very directly:
Do you see the problem? You need my kind of people for our understanding of data, but we don't necessarily want or need you. You are anathema to our values and expectations. Sure, you've got some very smart graybeards who can do some amazing things, but they're not going to be the bulk of your army for long, if they even still are. You have no choice but to keep hiring these hackers who didn't grow up having data hidden from them. It’s ironic that you’re becoming so reliant on people who really have no business in a tight-lipped, hierarchical quasi-militarized institution. We are the ones you should be snooping on, if only you could snoop without us.
I feel your pain.
Edward Snowden smoked you, and it wasn't even very hard for him. Now, I know what you're going to say: "It won't happen again! We'll improve security!" Who is going to improve your security? Is it going to be the naval officers you used to hire, respectful of hierarchy and used to a military lifestyle? Or is it going to be contractors with the information freedom ideals of the millennial hacker? Yeah, I thought so.
Let's face it: This isn't going to be the last time your secrets are aired to the public. It's probably not even going to be the last time this year that your secrets are aired to the public by another Edward Snowden, because you've got countless Edward Snowdens on your payroll whose first—not last—instinct is to blow open your information infrastructure. I mean, you tried to recruit me years ago, for goodness’ sake. Those confidential recruitment materials that said "For Your Eyes Only" all over them? Yeah, I showed those to everyone I knew, mostly because you were so heavy-handed with all the confidential stuff.
I knew the millennials were worth something. Over the coming years, they'll become in charge. I can't wait.

A Cogent Argument for Same-Sex Marriage

Kennedy has ruled in favor of sex being private,
for gays or straights. He doesn't have to say it again.

Sonya West of Slate has a very nifty view of how Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could rule in favor of same-sex marriage without getting into the sticky wicket of sex. It's not about sex, it's about gender. I like it.
The gender-discrimination argument is not complicated. Imagine Alice applies for a license to marry Charlie and it is granted. Yet if Bob applied for a license to marry Charlie, he would be denied. The crucial difference between Alice and Bob is, of course, their gender—not their sexual orientation. In fact, as we all know, homosexuals have long been free to marry members of the opposite sex. Thus, Kennedy is wrestling with the possibility that Bob is being discriminated against because he is a man and not because he is gay. And, if so, should the court apply the same level of heightened protection it traditionally applies whenever the government treats men and women differently?
No one says anybody who is married has to have sex (though that's somewhat the case in other countries where women are not allowed to say "no"). Also, a standard justification for having a marriage annulled is non-consummation, as in not having sex or being unwilling or unable to have sex. There is, however, no requirement that a couple have sex in order to stay married.

Sex doesn't have to be the issue.

So, the real, legal phrase is better stated as a same-gender marriage, and that smacks of gender discrimination, icky sex notwithstanding.

Anthony Kennedy should and can go this way. What people do inside of marriage, sex-wise, is private.

Save the NSA: Most Twisted Headline in Memory

N.S.A. Disclosures Put Awkward Light on Previous Denials

Not funny, NYTimes.

I'd been thinking about that James Clapper denial to Congress for a few days now, but NYTimes chimes in this morning. But, hey, citizens, we gotta be real soft on those NSA fee-fees, don't we? Don't want to go all Issa on them.

I'll get video when I can.

Update. Meanwhile, Greg Sargent at Plum Line acts like an adult whose knees don't go weak thinking about the surveillance issue, and makes complete sense.

Update 2.  Okay, got the video (can't embed, though) at the Huffington Post. Headline:

James Clapper: I Gave 'Least Untruthful' Answer Possible On NSA Surveillance

Yeah, we're in twisted territory, all right.

Update 3. Found the smoking gun clip at New York Magazine.  Again, can't copy embed code but found the original, longer video at YouTube.

By the way, New York Magazine has a more straightforward headline:

Is This a Video of the Director of National Intelligence Lying to Congress?

See, that wasn't so hard, was it, media?

Update 4. Took awhile, but the trip was fun, wasn't it? Here's the vid:


Yeah, lying. Big time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Debate on Secrecy in Spying Likely Difficult Because of Secrecy

That's right, we'd love to talk about the laws we have on the books, but if we did, they'd probably lock us up, but we can tell you in absolutely certain terms that we're, ah, concerned.

Feinstein: I'd love to tell you the truth, but it's illegal to move my mouth.

This NYTimes article is a hoot, well, not really.

Nobody can talk about secret programs because it's treason, sez trustworthy senator Dianne Feinstein.

Treason : the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.

There are other meanings of the word, as in betrayal of a trust, but when it's about a country or a state, the one given is what Feinstein and other government representatives mean, n'est pas?

My take? Snowden = whistleblower = hero. Feinstein = government tool = untrustworthy.

Where am I wrong? Twitter verdict? Thought so. Daniel Ellsberg verdict? Naturally.

Graham: Of course I've been briefed. About what? Can't tell you that. But let's debate!

Wait! Who's talking about Benghazi or the IRS? Nobody. Some good has come of this mess.

Update. Dana Milbank flagged the obvious: NSA secrecy is the cause of its own distress, pointing out that gut-wrenched James Clapper lied to Congress about the program. But John Boehner (R-Idiotville, OH) weighs in that Snowden's a traitor!

Monday, June 10, 2013

We Spend Money on this Bullshit?

I'm not the first on this, obviously, but, please, can we take a look at WHAT WE SPEND OUR MONEY ON?

Sorry for shouting but seriously, this is an opportunity cost question. How much do we have to spend to catch a terrorist? The point is germane considering the Boston bombers blew up American citizens even though we had this bitchin' humongous, ginormous program to catch them BEFORE THEY ACT. Cool. (Only I guess we did have the ginormous program for years before...)

NSA chief General Keith Alexander. The programs costs, uh, oh yeah, that's classified.

Here, just look at this picture: It's the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Why is that so bad? Because it's the headquarters, not the only facility. There are probably hundreds or even thousands of offsite sites, but HOW ARE WE TO EVEN KNOW?

Yep, NSA headquarters. Thank god it's the only one. DOH!!

But thank god for our millions and billions we occasionally stop terrorist attacks with our humongous super metadata programs! You know, like when we stopped Najibullah Zazi. Or did we?

Let's raise the NSA budget so we can really evaluate its effectiveness (even though we can't because it's classified), but let's cut the food stamps budget because, uh, we can? (Oh, and because we know how much that costs, uh, we actually know how much to cut, to, uh, say, starve the poor?)

Being American is often expensive and often just plain stupid. But we're safe!! (Oh yeah, we average ten times the deaths from guns ANNUALLY THAN WE DID IN ONE DAY ON 9/11.)

The Face of America, Old and New

Hey Lindsey, the hippies won't let us go to war again. What should we do?

John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who've never met a Sunday talk show they didn't like, do like massive surveillance and endless war. Yes, this is old America, the one we've got to come to grips with and remold and rework into a new America worth living in.

Glenn's nutty theory is that power corrupts and Obama has proven that more than Bush.

The face of new America, surprisingly, is Glenn Greenwald, a gay man who had to leave the States because his partner, a Brazilian, wasn't allowed to stay under current immigration laws that protect heterosexual spouses, though that's an adjacent point. Where Greenwald principally comes from is as a constitutional lawyer who has been waging a battle against gross illegality in the secret operations of the surveillance state at least since I began reading his blog, Undiscovered Territory, in 2005. He's been consistent in his determination that America has been losing its constitutional compass for a while now. Greenwald may have left the building, but he is far from leaving the fight, as we're now seeing.

He was trusted by Edward Snowden, a defense contractor for the NSA, to go through his documents that he had uncovered through his work and choose which to release and which to withhold. Glenn Greenwald is not a loose cannon in the way, say, John McCain is, who flies off to Syria to promote entry in the war and ends up hanging out with extortionists and kidnappers with links to terrorist groups. When it comes to trust, I'd trust Glenn Greenwald.

Hope and change is one thing, but power's a fucking bitch.

When Barack Obama decided not to prosecute -- or at the very least put through a truth and reconciliation process -- any of the Bush administration figures who engaged in or enabled the regime of torture, rendition, and indiscriminate humiliation and abuse that was so prevalent back in the Bush years, he offered a number of vague and absurd excuses about "moving forward." Now, I realize that, more than anything, Obama did so to maintain presidential prerogatives.

No, I'm not suggesting that Obama wants to torture, but he just didn't want to empty the presidential toolbox of any available resources. By now, I'm afraid, I'm long past being able to accept Barack Obama's transgressions, whether it's his drone-strike policy or his intimidation of whistleblowers and journalists or his "acquiescence" in furthering the unconstitutional surveillance state.

Although all of this is far from funny, I'd like to paraphrase grifter Sarah Palin and ask, "Hey Barack, how's that whistleblower war workin' out for ya?"

The caption has it right: NSA whistleblower, not traitor. Is this a sea change?

I can't for the life of me understand why Edward Snowden did what he did. No, not that he blew the whistle on the enormity of the NSA domestic spying operation, but that he revealed who he was and departed America to protect himself and his wife (Update: I think I meant girlfriend). I don't know that I could have done it.

He did though, and I'd hazard that he did it to say, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." That iconic line spoken so many years ago by actor James Mason in the movie "Network" rings as true today as it ever did.

What Edward Snowden did was reckless and heroic. What John McCain and others of his ilk do is reckless and destructive. We need a sea change, and we're not going to get it from Lindsey Graham or Richard Haas, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama.

Bradley Manning's mistake was giving his documents to Julian Assange, not Glenn Greenwald.

You know what Americans do? In the case of Bradley Manning, they take a naive, frightened, well-intentioned soldier and lock him, without charges, in a cell, stripped of his clothing and without even a blanket, for months on end. That's what Americans do to Americans. Is that the America you love? It's not mine, either.

Check your watch. Okay, we've got eight years. Is it enough time to fuck up America?

No, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney weren't the first administration to abuse power. Nixon was no slouch, and many would say Abraham Lincoln crossed the line with his suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. But in cahoots with a freaked out Congress, Bush and Cheney ran roughshod over the Constitution and it'll be a hard road to travel restoring what we've lost.

Conservatives rush to defend the NSA. Uh, who hates us for our freedom?

I wish I could say we're at a tipping point, and maybe we are. It's often hard to see where the major markers are in any major transition. But the world of sloppy heroes like Bradly Manning, and deliberate, careful heroes like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald looks a lot more like the country I've lived in most of my life. It's ironic that our new heroes are in exile or in jail and our old wielders of power are in Congress or gated homes in Dallas, Texas, McClean, Virgina, or 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But that's where we are today.

There's another shoe to drop, and to see it I'll be watching Glenn Greenwald, not John McCain. The first gentleman is vital, the second is fossilized, and as Joe Biden would say, literally.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Week They Broke the Constitution

The National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland.

I don't know, maybe it's been over the course of two weeks that the true nature of our federal government has been "leaked." But wrap your head around this: We now understand our government better because we were told about it, told something we weren't supposed to know.

And the government is furious. From its perspective our knowing what they're up to is a crime. That's what has to sink in. To say that it's horrifying is not an overstatement. Think of this:
  • The federal government, through a number of agencies but most notably the NSA, gets to know a lot about us that we're not allowed to know they know.
  • As far at the government is concerned, letting American citizens know what they didn't know but probably should have known is a crime punishable by life in prison or execution.
  • As far as the government is concerned, it owns the Internet and all its data. It also owns all telecommunications data. Why? Because a terrorist act might happen.
  • Bradley Manning is a criminal who deserves life behind bars because he revealed a war crime that was never prosecuted, even though another, not so crazy interpretation of his actions might make him out to be a hero.
  • Glenn Greenwald is getting classified information from somewhere. Without a doubt, the DOJ is right now looking very hard for whoever is providing Glenn Greenwald with the "leaked" information. What is that information? Troop movements? No. How to destroy our entire nuclear arsenal? No. Our secret plans to invade Moscow? No. Glenn Greewald let the American people know that, starting with the Bush administration and continuing unabated in the Obama administration, the federal government is shredding our Constitution into little pieces, and it's a crime to know that they're doing it.
  What really rich is that we're not supposed to care about this because Congress has complete oversight over all of this data harvesting. Only thing is, they can't tell us what they're overseeing. That would be a crime. They can't even tell us what they can't tell us. They can't tell us that they're horrified by government practices they believe are illegal because telling us that would be illegal. But they can tell us, don't worry, it's cool.

Can you hear me now?

What's also really rich is that the Republicans, who have been shouting from the rooftops how freaking unconstitutional Barack Obama is with his Obamacare, and his individual mandate, and free birth control, yes, those Republicans, are now saying go ahead, read my emails, check my phone records, analyze my Google searches, have at it! Why? So we can be safe!

If I read two chilling things this week, they would be two statements made by Daniel Ellsberg in an interview with Wonkblog's Timothy B. Lee. First, this one, when Lee asks Ellsberg if government surveillance of journalists was more alarming than prosecution of leakers:
Absolutely, but the two go together a little more than might be obvious. First of all, there’s no question that President Obama is conducting an unprecedented campaign against unauthorized disclosure. The government had used the Espionage Act against leaks only three times before his administration. He’s used it six times. He’s doing his best to assure that sources in the government will have reason to fear heavy prison sentences for informing the American public in ways he doesn’t want.
In other words, he’s working very hard to make it a government where he controls all the information. There will be plenty of leaks of classified information, but it will be by his officials in pursuit of his policies. We will not be getting information that the government doesn’t want out, that [reveals government actions that are] embarrassing or criminal or reckless, as we saw in Vietnam and Iraq.
I think the newspapers really need to address the fact that they’re going to be put in the position of printing nothing more than government handouts. There will be in effect a state press, as in so many other countries that lack freedom of the press. I don’t think they have really awakened to that change. There would be a lot of newspaper people who would be comfortable with that. But there are a lot who would not.
That last graph is the killer. "[Newspapers are] going to be put in the position of printing nothing more than government handouts." Freedom of the press? In the most surreptitious way, press freedom has been smothered. By what? Government secrecy and its prerogative to maintain it by terrorizing the press.

Daniel Ellsberg wasn't tried for leaking the Pentagon Papers because of Nixon's "dirty tricks."

The other quote from the Ellsberg interview gets to the heart of the government's brutal campaign against Bradley Manning:
Specifically, they’re charging Bradley with the video. [A video of a 2007 helicopter strike in Baghdad released by WikiLeaks under the title "Collateral Murder."] That was not in fact classified. But whether it was or not, it was wrongly withheld from Reuters who twice made Freedom of Information Act requests knowing it existed. David Finkel at The Washington Post quoted from the video. Bradley Manning was aware that Reuters had made that request and had been denied and that The Washington Post had access to the video and he believed that they had the video. I don’t think it’s ever been established whether the Washington Post reporter had the video.
That video depicts a war crime, an unarmed, injured civilian being deliberately killed. A squad was going to be in the area in minutes. They also shot at people who were trying to help the victims, including a father and two children.
Manning sees this, knows it’s a crime, knows the evidence has been refused to Reuters. He knows there’s no way for the American public to see that except to put it out. By any standard that’s what he should have done. For them to charge him with that shows an outrageous sensibility. Going after the man who exposes the war crime instead of any of the ones who actually did it, none of whom were indicted or investigated.
There's so much more to be said about the week they broke the Constitution. But just this much is enough to make your skin crawl, don't you think?

Imagine, then, what a journalist might think.

Bradley Manning is being tried even after horrid, brutal treatment because times change?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Screw the Young. They Don't Appreciate the System.

Okay, with such a provocative title, a caveat or two might be in order. It's likely that all the twenty-something and thirty-something commenters I see on Yahoo! and the Washington Post who keep repeating the talking point that "the elderly are just stealing money from the young just when they need that money to get on with their lives" are either mouthing notions they hear on Fox News, Fox Business, or CNBC, or repeating ad nauseum the campaign slogans from 2012. They got this nonsense from somewhere.

Or, in the alternative, they're dyed-in-the-wool libertarians/conservatives who really, really want to dismantle the social safety net that is there for the most vulnerable -- the elderly, the children, the poor, and the disabled -- based on the notion that somehow everything would work out if people "took responsibility for their own lives" and stopped "stealing" from the hard-working among us. That's the "47 percent solution."

Finally, there are young people that have drunk the it-won't-be-there-for-us-when-we-get-there Kool-Aid, in spite of all the studies that show that it not only will it be there when they get old -- or vulnerable while younger -- but it can also be expanded and improved if our citizenry wished it.

So, having said that, I propose a point of view, or a policy recommendation, if you will: screw the coming generations if they don't or won't appreciate the nature of the system that was built before them. My parents paid for their parents' retirement, and I paid for my parents' retirement. My children will pay for my retirement, and so forth. This system is a fully functional one that can continue, with a few tweaks and improvements, for as long as our country wants it to. Full stop.

Now, if the young are selfish, myopic, or just plain duped by the powers that be in the financial and political sphere into believing it's in their best interest to destroy the system so it won't be there for them -- a self-fulfilling prophecy -- then fine. If the coming generations can be suckered into surrendering their futures to some politically savvy con artists, grifters, and thieves so that the rich can have their taxes reduced by crushing the safety net, then so be it.

Of course, we who wish to preserve or even improve our social safety net or to enhance social justice or improve income equality should do our best to educate our young and fight for them to the last ditch against the political forces of pure greed, dressed in the sheep's clothing of "individualism." But in the extreme, if we can't convince them, they I suggest AARP, and every geezer-based organization and institution in the country adopt a screw-the-young platform.

The trouble is, though, a screw-the-young platform has already been adopted -- by the Republican Party in cahoots with the moneyed classes that control the Beltway Narrative. No, anyone who fights for the most needy among us will by the very nature of the fight be fighting for the coming generations. It's just the way it works.

So, gen-Xers, gen-Yers, and millennials, we the baby boomers have no choice but to watch your backs. Then do yourself a favor: watch ours, too. That's the way the system was designed to work. And it does work. Don't let the Ayn Rands, Rand Pauls, and Paul Ryans of the world strip you of your future.

Update. There's hope for us yet. The millennials really don't like the Republican Party. So maybe they're not drinking the Kool-Aid so much. Good for them. Hope we see you at the ballot box in 2014.