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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

How conservatives justify poll taxes

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Jonathan Chait has an interesting article:

During the Obama era, the Republican Party has made the modern revival of the poll tax a point of party dogma. Direct poll taxes have been illegal for 50 years, but the GOP has discovered a workaround. They have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.

The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax. (Indeed, a study found that the cost they impose is considerably greater than existing poll taxes at the time they were banned.) It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.

The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.

It is precisely because the effect is so obvious that conservatives must labor so strenuously to deny it. National Revieweditor Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, scoffs at arguments against the Republican poll tax agenda. Lowry offers three arguments for voter identification laws. The first is that we can’t prove that they reduce voting (“its effect can’t reliably be detected by the tools of social science”). . .

Continue reading.

Interesting point raised by Lowry: if you cannot measure it, it does not exist (and, I suppose, the more precise the measurement, the more surely it exists?).

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Two NY Times columns worth reading—and one is by David Brooks!

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Paul Krugman points out the intense efforts by the GOP to prevent people from voting—focused, of course, on those groups likely to vote democratic—reflects the general feeling of the wealthy that poor people should have no say in the government. (Originally, as he points out, people had to own property (land) to vote in the US.) It’s a good column that ends with this:

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

And David Brooks seems to recognize the bad trends multiplying in the US. From his column:

If you get outside the partisan boxes, there’s a completely obvious agenda to create more middle-class, satisfying jobs. The federal government should borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure, including better bus networks so workers can get to distant jobs. The fact that the federal government has not passed major infrastructure legislation is mind-boggling, considering how much support there is from both parties.

That’s a surprising statement from Brooks, I would say.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 4:46 pm

Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

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A good post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 4:12 pm

Where Is the Investigation Into Financial Corruption at the NSA?

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It’s not only the police who have been corrupted by power: when you combine great power with total secrecy things can go very bad indeed. Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:

Earlier this year, when Keith Alexander resigned as head of the National Security Agency, he began trying to cash in on expertise he’d gained while in government, pitching himself as a security consultant who could protect Wall Street banks and other large corporations from cyber-attacks by hackers or foreign governments. Early reports focused on the eye-popping price tag for his services: He reportedly asked for $1 million a month, later decreasing his rate to $600,000.

“I question how Mr. Alexander can provide any of the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods,” Representative Alan Grayson wrote in a letter to banking trade groups that retained him. “Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.”

What, exactly, was he selling?

The explanation Alexander offered in an interview with Foreign Policy only raised more questions. In his telling, the value of his consulting services was explained by “a patented and ‘unique’ approach to detecting malicious hackers and cyber-intruders that the retired Army general said he has invented, along with his business partners at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the company he co-founded after leaving the government and retiring from military service in March.” He revealed his company’s plans to file at least nine patents “for a system to detect so-called advanced persistent threats, or hackers who clandestinely burrow into a computer network in order to steal secrets or damage the network.”

In government, Alexander had publicized and inveighed against just these sorts of threats, claiming that they were already responsible for the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. He oversaw a workforce that studied cyber-attacks and cyber-defenses, often drawing on highly classified or privileged information. So it struck many observers as suspicious that, immediately upon retiring, he suddenly had a dramatically better solution to a pressing national-security problem, one he never introduced while in government but planned to patent and sell. Had he withheld a valuable security solution to profit from it later? Were the novel approaches he intended to patent developed on the public dime? Alexander claimed that his part of the relevant work was done in his spare time, while other cyber-defense solutions were developed by his partner outside government.

No one could prove that those explanations were lies.

But they smelled fishy, especially because even as Alexander created the appearance of multiple improprieties as he entered the private sector, the NSA refused to release the statements of financial conflicts of interest that he’d filed as a federal employee. Indeed, the NSA refused to release the financial-conflict forms of any of its employees, despite the fact that they were required by public-records laws to do so. Their legal position was partly that releasing these records would harm national security. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold sued to challenge those claims. His victory—the NSA backed down before the case even went to court—showed both the legal indefensibility of withholding those public records and the blatant dishonesty of the claim that their release would harm national security: As you can see for yourself, contra the NSA’s assurances, nothing in the documents that the NSA has now turned over plausibly threatens national security.

What the documents do reveal, beyond the fact that NSA administrators are willing to mislead the public and the press, is that Alexander had even more potential conflicts of interest than were known publicly (though NSA lawyers declared them kosher). As Leopold reports: . . .

Continue reading.

Things may change: NSA reviewing official’s part-time private work

And note this story by Adam Roston at Buzzfeed:

One of the nation’s top spies is leaving her position at the National Security Agency (NSA), a spokesman confirmed Friday, amid growing disclosures of possible conflicts of interest at the secretive agency.

The shakeup comes just a month after BuzzFeed News began reporting on the financial interests of the official, Teresa Shea, and her husband.

Shea was the director of signals intelligence, or SIGINT, which involves intercepting and decoding electronic communications via phones, email, chat, Skype, and radio. It’s widely considered the most important mission of the NSA, and includes some of the most controversial programs disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden, including the mass domestic surveillance program.

The NSA provided a statement Friday that said Teresa Shea’s “transition” from the SIGINT director job was routine and “planned well before recent news articles.” The agency indicated she would remain employed, but did not provide specifics.

The Sheas did not respond to a message left at their home telephone number.

In September, BuzzFeed News reported that a SIGINT “contracting and consulting” company was registered at Shea’s house, even while she was the SIGINT director at NSA. The resident agent of the company, Telic Networks, was listed as James Shea, her husband.

Mr. Shea is also the vice president of a major SIGINT contractor that appears to do business with the NSA. The company, DRS Signals Solutions, is a subsidiary of DRS Technologies, which itself is a subsidiary of Italian-owned Finmeccanica SPA.

Last week BuzzFeed News also reported Shea herself had incorporated an “office and electronics” business at her house, and that the company owned a six-seat airplane and a condominium in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Over the past month, Teresa and James Shea haven’t returned phone calls, and the NSA has declined to comment about any specifics, beyond explaining how the agency tries to address conflict of interest issues in general, and to say that “the agency takes Federal ethics laws quite seriously.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

CIA lying about stalling the report

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The CIA, doing everything it can to stop the Senate report—after already destroying all the video evidence of their torture of prisoners (and presumably of some of the innocents that mistakenly tortured). But they are lying about their stall, of course.

From Dan Froomkin’s column today:

Trapani [CIA spokesman] said, “CIA worked extensively to assist SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Inteligence] in completing this Study. CIA expects this report to be released, consistent with the SSCI vote. Anyone suggesting that we are trying to stall to January does not understand the basic facts of this matter.”

Either side in a negotiation can technically blame the other for holding up an agreement. But the CIA does have a bad track record here.

J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote recently:

As the official responsible for oversight of the system for classifying national security information during the Bush administration, I frequently did battle with the CIA over declassification. I found its negotiating posture to be consistent: start out with the most ridiculous position and eventually settle for one that is simply outrageous. My 40 years of experience in the world of government secrecy taught me that the CIA rarely if ever acts in good faith when it comes to transparency.

Leonard wrote that in this case, “The CIA even redacted information already made public by a 2009 Armed Services Committee Report on detainee abuse within the military.”

Obama promised that he would expedite the release of the report, but then Obama also promised “a world without nuclear weapons” and now he’s going to spend $1 trillion to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Obama apparently likes to make promises and apparently feels that, once a promise is made, no further action is required and he can do as he likes.

And so far as his actions and words go, Obama has never even heard of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed (by Ronald Reagan) and ratified. He has completely ignored it for 6 years.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 1:55 pm

Excellent news: Campaign finance reports are going to be processed quickly

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Nancy Scola writes at the Washington Post:

The U.S. Senate’s long resistanceto filing campaign finance reports on anything but paper occasionally turns into a hot political topic: At the moment, for example,Republicans are complaining that Democrats are intentionally swamping the system by submitting minutely-detailed reports to the Federal Election Commission.

The filing of Rep. Bruce Braley (D) alone, running for U.S. Senate in Iowa, is 26,000 pages long. The FEC takes each filing and sends it to a contractor, who types it in, character by character. The process can take weeks, if not months. Braley, meanwhile, goes before voters in 11 days.

By the next election cycle, it might not matter: Smart technology is being put in place to make Senate candidates’ finances public in near real-time.

California-based Captricity has just been awarded a $270,000, one-year contract to quickly extract all that data trapped on paper and push it onto the FEC Web site in, potentially, hours. How?

“We cheat,” says Kuang Chen, Captricity’s chief executive. “We use crowd-sourcing and machine-learning.” The 26-employee company grew out of Chen’s 2011 PhD thesis in computer science at the University of California at Berkeley.

Captricity works by “shredding” documents into small pieces, explains Chen. Those pieces are then uploaded to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Government, Technology

With a $10 million fine, the FCC is leaping into data security for the first time

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Brian Fung has some good news: companies that fail to protect their customers’ data will pay heavily.

That’s really the only way to do it. So long as companies suffer no financial penalties when they customer data are hacked, the companies will continue to avoid the expense of really good cybersecurity. Why pay the money if losing the data doesn’t cost them anything. (Companies are always trying to find ways to cut or otherwise avoid costs—like not paying for the environmental damage they cause. Corporate motto: Let someone else pay for it.)

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Business, Government

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