Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 14th, 2013

Rick Perry hates women

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Apparently. J.K. Trotter reports in the Atlantic Wire:

Texas Governor Rick Perry has some bad news for Texas women. On Friday afternoon, the one-time presidential hopeful notified legislators that Texas would not join the federal government and 42 other states that have addressed gender-based wage discrimination. Their bill, which installs state-level legal protections similar to those enacted by the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, had a lot of momentum before reaching Perry’s desk. Last month the legislation, along with two separate amendments, cleared both of the state’s chambers, and it would have made Texas the 43rd state in the Union to have passed such legislation.

Perry’s rationale for vetoing the first bill is a bit fuzzy. The Houston Chronicle points out that the governor’s staff members have argued that the legislation is unnecessary due to the the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but have refused to speak to reporters when evidence to the contrary is presented. According to The Huffington Post, HB 950 allows litigants alleging wage discrimination to use a state court instead of a federal court (which tends to be a lot more convenient for plaintiffs) and plugs certain holes left open by the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act at the state level. Perry has yet to announce his reasoning behind the veto, which he confirmed to the staff members of two state representatives who sponsored the bill.

The decision to veto places Perry in a vulnerable position against progressive critics who have, rather successfully, situated him and his Republican peers in their “war on women” narrative, which asserts that GOP politicians use their power to marginalize and disempower women. Perry and his staff have worked hard to counter this narrative, as evidenced by a glowing New York Times profile from January that highlights the plurality of women on his staff. (Perry’s chief of staff until February was female — a feat yet to be matched by Democratic President Barack Obama, who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on his ninth day of office but has hired only white men to fill the White House Chief of Staff.) Nor will Perry’s veto rally his fellow Republicans, many of whom believe the pay gap between men and women is a myth invented to unfairly cast Republicans as sexist. After all, Perry did not go out of his way to attack the bill’s basic premise.

Indeed, the governor seems to have focused his energy elsewhere: on the same day he vetoed the wage discrimination bill Perry signed another bill mandating that certain Texans seeking unemployment benefits be tested for illegal drugs.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Healthcare reform doomed… A blast from the past

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Paul Krugman:

Aaron Carroll has a fun piece full of quotations about how an expansion of health coverage is doomed to failure, doctors will refuse to participate, and so on. What makes it fun is that the health expansion in question is Medicaid, and all of the quotes are from 40 or more years ago. As he says, after quoting from a 1969 article,

Even then people were screaming that no one would participate. I expect doctors will abandon the program any second now….

And, of course, he mentions Reagan’s ominous warnings that Medicare would mean the end of freedom.

Nice work. I suspect that even then, one reason reporting was so wrong on Medicaid, which has in the end been a hugely successful program, was that reporters — and, even more, editors — just didn’t know anyone on Medicaid, and therefore had no sense of the good it did (and does).

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Healthcare

An Australian military leader speaks

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Thanks to TYD:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Military, Video

Important note from Barry Eisler:

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At his blog:

The primary purpose of intelligence — accurate or distorted, real or fake — isn’t to shape policy.  It is to *justify* policy.  The way politicians use intelligence — what they leak, what they suppress, what they demand collected and how they insist it be understood — is almost entirely driven by their desire to justify policies upon which they have already decided.  Remember that, as we increasingly intervene in Syria.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 2:33 pm

Ira Katznelson’s “Fear Itself” — Part III

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Brad Plumer takes us into Part III of the discussion in the Washington Post:

It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in the summer, so what better way to spend the time than… with a book club?  Hopefully everyone’s read Part III of Ira Katznelson’s, “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time” by now.

So let’s discuss in comments. Two highlights from this section to kick things off:

1) The chapter on the foreign-policy outlook of white Southern politicians was strangely fascinating. Many Nazi officials in the 1930s thought that they could count on support from the white U.S. South. After all, how different was German anti-Semitism from the racist Jim Crow regime, really? (Hitler was even fond of saying that the South should have won the Civil War.)

But that belief was utterly wrong. Not only did most white Southern politicians (and editorial writers) loathe Nazi Germany, but the South was one of the few regions of the country that strongly supported an activist foreign policy during the 1930s. As Katznelson shows, only Southern votes made it possible for the United States to modify its neutrality stance, send aid to Britain, build up an army, and reinstate the draft prior to World War II.

So why were white Southern politicians so unique in this regard — especially at a time when most Americans favored neutrality abroad? Katznelson offers up a few theories. Many Southerners identified culturally with the British. There were also economics to consider: The South’s economy depended heavily on trade that was being disrupted by German expansion. And, of course, “southern military camps and war production after 1939 produced a huge influx of federal government investment.”

But Katznelson also hints at a third reason, although he doesn’t flesh it out. Most white southerners weren’t in any mood to revive debates on race during the 1930s, especially since the compromises in the New Deal had basically left segregation intact in the South. “A powerful sentiment developed,” wrote historian George Tindall, “to dampen the rekindled flames of racial feeling.” The rise of Nazi Germany threatened to unsettle all that.

2) Katznelson also attempts a valiant defense of the usually disparaged National Recovery Administration, established in 1933. True, he notes, the price-setting and “code of fair practices” all smacked of government attempts to micromanage the economy. But, says Katznelson, the NRA was an important effort to find a middle ground between unfettered capitalism and the sort of planned economies seen in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

I do wish, however, that Katznelson had given more attention to economic research on this period. The book notes that U.S. employment fell sharply in the three years after the NRA was established, suggesting that it wasn’t a total failure. But many economists — including Ben Bernanke — have attributed the  recovery to the fact that the Roosevelt administration took the country off the gold standard in 1933.

There’s a whole lot more to discuss, so what did you all think?

Related: Here are our three previous discussions (Part IPart II, and a follow-up). And as a reminder, here’s our book club schedule. The next discussion will be June 28

Now read the discussion in comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 2:08 pm

Michael Douglas’s son writes an op-ed from prison

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Anthony Papa at AlterNet:

Earlier this week, Cameron Douglas – who is serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for drug law violations – wrote a stinging op-ed that was published and picked up by hundreds of media sources.  Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, offered a compelling critique of the U.S. justice system and the way it harshly punishes people who are struggling with drug addiction.Douglas wrote that he “seem(s) to be trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse and repeat, as most addicts are.” He went on to say that a long prison sentence without adequate treatment “does absolutely nothing but temporarily deter them from succumbing to their weakness.” It was the first time Douglas spoke to the public from behind bars, where he has been living for three years.

This was an exciting moment for me, since I have been following Douglas’ story since his arrest in 2009, writing 10 pieces about his sad and exasperating case.

Douglas was first convicted of drug crimes in 2010. Then, last year, he relapsed while serving his sentence. Prison officials caught him with very small amounts of opioids for personal use, including a single dose of a medication used to treat heroin dependence that he had obtained without a prescription.  They placed him in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for 11 months, and denied him social visits with family and friends. But the federal district court, which imposed Douglas his original 60-month sentence, wasn’t satisfied with these punishments, and nearly doubled his sentence by adding an additional 54 months to Douglas’ term.

Meanwhile, the Drug Policy Alliance has been working with his family and legal team to appeal his sentence – which may be the longest-ever federal prison sentence imposed for the simple possession of drugs for personal use behind bars. Earlier this year, DPA submitted an amicus brief on behalf of a wide array of New York State’s and the nation’s leading medical and substance abuse treatment authorities that challenged his sentence. Nonetheless, Douglas’ sentence was upheld.

Read the rest of Douglas’ piece here.

This piece was originally posted on the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog.

Douglas’s piece begins:

Well, let me start by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and feelings with you. I hope maybe in some way, this gives you a little window into my reality and more importantly, into my heart.

So, here I sit at my little table in the belly of the beast, writing to you. I have spent close to two of my four years of incarceration in solitary confinement. If this seems like a long time, it is magnified in light of the fact that my time spent in the box is largely due to two dirty urines — one of which was false, which is a story for another time. For the other, I was also given an additional 4.5 years on top of my initial five-year sentence, as if 11 straight months in segregation, locked down 23 hours a day, was not enough.

The bigger picture is much more disturbing, however. There are half a million other people in the U.S. who, like me, will go to sleep behind bars tonight because of nothing more than a drug law violation. Our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders who are losing much of what is relevant in life. This outdated system pays little, if any, concern to the disease of addiction, and instead punishes it more harshly than many violent crimes. And even more exasperating is that many of the people responsible for this tragedy disregard documented medical research and the reality of our country’s unsustainable prison overpopulation.

Why… ? I’m sure I’ll be terrified by the answer. However, I humbly propose we start seeking the truth.

I’m not saying that I didn’t deserve to be punished, or that I’m worthy of special treatment. I made mistakes and I’ll gladly and openly admit my faults. However, I seem to be trapped in a vicious cycle of relapse and repeat, as most addicts are. Unfortunately, whereas the effective remedy for relapse should be treatment, the penal system’s “answer” is to lock the door and throw away the key. Somehow, with the astronomical rate of recidivism, largely due to drug violations, no one seems to comprehend that tossing individuals desperate for skills to cope with addiction behind bars, no matter for how long a period of time, does absolutely nothing but temporarily deter them from succumbing to their weakness. Instead of focusing on how many individuals this county can keep imprisoned, why can we not focus on how many individuals we can keep from coming back? . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Solidarity

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Business, Unions, Video

A Special Report: Thrown Away People

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Scott Braddock has a good article at ConstructionCitizen.com:

“If a piece of the building falls to the ground and breaks, they have insurance for that,” said a middle-aged man in a wheelchair in Houston. I sat in a small portable building behind a church, listening through an interpreter as the man, I’ll call him Miguel, told the story of how his spinal cord was injured when he fell on the job building homes along the Gulf Coast. “But, if I fall off a roof and I break, they don’t have insurance for me,” he said. I paused a moment before asking him any more questions, letting that sink in.

The Living Hope Wheelchair Association in Houston was founded to help men with these injuries who have no workers’ compensation. They’re under-funded, barely getting by thanks to the donations of churchgoers and caregivers. A small group of volunteers help these men and women with their most basic needs. And they know how to stretch a dollar. With meager donations, they’re able to buy things like catheters and diapers the injured workers need on a daily basis. As one volunteer showed me their supply, which he was proud of, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. These are the kinds of things people would rather not have to talk about even if they have to use them. What struck me hardest is the fact that these people are hidden. People don’t talk about them because they’ve been used and abused. “A democracy can’t survive very long when it throws away its workers,” the volunteer said with an almost revolutionary tone in his voice.

Not only do these workers lack health insurance – in Texas, workers’ compensation is optional – they’re also not paid by the hour, don’t receive overtime pay, they lack safety training and of course they get no retirement plan. If you venture out to one of the many subdivisions being built just about anywhere in Texas, you’ll see row upon row of houses under construction. The workers, mainly Latinos, are one serious injury away from needing the volunteers of the Living Hope Wheelchair Association or other faith-based groups. They’re toiling in the hot Texas sun with no safety net. If they’re hurt, they’ll be patched up at the emergency room. Their employer will not get a bill. You and I will pick up the tab through our property taxes. Socialized medicine at its best, I suppose.

How can any of this be legal?

Many of these workers are undocumented. Unethical construction companies skirt the law and pay these people slave wages to do some of the hardest work there is: Roofing, carpentry, masonry, drywall hanging, and more. The way it’s done is actually pretty simple. You just make the worker his or her own boss. That’s right. Make them an “independent subcontractor” instead of an employee. Why bother with all the paperwork – and taxes – that go along with hiring an employee when you can just call him an independent subcontractor, give him a check with no taxes deducted and then give him a 1099 at the end of the year?

Over the last year, I’ve dedicated almost all my time to the issue of misclassification in the construction industry. It still feels very new to me but it’s not new at all to the labor movement. The intentional misclassification of workers is also a growing concern for ethical industry leaders and an increasing number of conservative Republicans at the Texas Capitol.

Worker misclassification, which labor leaders have for years called “payroll fraud,” happens when . . .

Continue reading. A book I highly recommend because it’s entertaining and informative: Which Side Are You On?, by Thom Geoghegan. Link is to inexpensive secondhand copies. The powerful will always attempt to steal from the less powerful, and the only hope is for the less-powerful to band together to resist the abuse. That, in fact, is the seed of democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 1:06 pm

I ♥ Elizabeth Warren

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Alex Seitz-Wald in Salon:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a group of liberal lawyers last night that they should press the president to speed up the judicial nomination process, and warned that failing to do would lead to increasing corporate influence over the courts.

“Above all, we must make judicial nominations a priority. It’s time for a new generation of judges, judges whose life experience extends beyond big firms, federal prosecution, and whitecollar defense,” she said in a speech before the American Constitution Society.

“We need sustained pressure to get those judges in front of the Senate. Pressure — pressure on our President, pressure on Senators, pressure in the press,” she added.

The White House has been in a prolonged standoff with Senate Republicans over judicial nominations, especially those for the powerful D.C. Circuit Cout of Appeals. Some progressives have criticized the president for waiting too long to make appointments to fill three vacant seats on the court, and have called for him to name appointees for other federal courts as well.

Warren, a former Harvard Law professor, also criticized the “increasingly brazen and ideological pro-corporate tilt” of the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit. “Follow this pro-business trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:59 pm

Paul Ryan tells a baldfaced lie? Why am I not surprised?

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Because the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Alex Seitz-Wald in Salon writes:

Speaking at a conference of social conservatives in Washington today, Rep. Paul Ryan decried what he saw as the Obama administration’s assault on religious freedom, falsely saying that Obamacare will force churches to provide healthcare for employees that covers abortion drugs.

“Take a look at what’s going on with the HHS mandate,” Ryan told the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority Conference this morning. “Obamacare says that if you believe in the social teaching of your church, if you disagree with abortifacients — with abortion inducing drugs — it doesn’t matter. You, if you’re a church or a charity or a hospital, you have to buy health insurance that offers your employees these things that are in contradiction to your beliefs. This is what the federal government is demanding.”

Last year, this issue exploded on the right when the Department of Health and Human Services released draft guidelines that would require most employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control without co-pays. But the rules made specific exemptions for religious employers like churches, and under pressure from the Catholic Church and others, the administration reviewed the rules and added exceptions to allay concerns.

The new rules, released in February, expand the definition to include more organizations and give religiously affiliated organizations more flexibility. Churches are still completely exempted, as are nonprofit religiously affiliated organizations, though the latter must allow employees to obtain contraception coverage via a supplemental plan, without additional cost to them or the companies. Nobody is, in any way, required to use or purchase contraception.

And Ryan seems to be conflating abortifacients, such as the drug RU486, with the morning after pill. Abortifacients are not included in the Affordable Care Act or regulations at all.

Ryan, who is as conservative on abortion as anyone in the Republican Party, tried tomake an issue out of the mandate during the 2012 presidential campaign as well, but softened his positions after the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” flap. He’s also had some trouble with the truth.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:57 pm

Posted in GOP, Healthcare

Charles Krauthammer shows further signs of cognitive decay

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer summarizes a talking point about the NSA’s spying programs that’s already getting a lot of air time on the right:

The object is not to abolish these vital programs. It’s to fix them. Not exactly easy to do amid the current state of national agitation — provoked largely because such intrusive programs require a measure of trust in government, and this administration has forfeited that trust amid an unfolding series of scandals and a basic problem with truth-telling.

To summarize: People are groundlessly suspicious of vital panopticonish surveillance programs, and this is all due to Barack Obama’s weaselly ways, not to the Republican Party’s relentless 30-year campaign to destroy the public’s faith in domestic programs of all sorts, mock the very idea that government accomplishes anything useful, and pander to the black-helicopter conspiracy theories of the Blenn Beck crowd.

Sorry Charlie, that’s not going to fly. If you spend decades inventing scandals out of whole cloth and insisting that big government is a menace to liberty, don’t be surprised when it turns out that an awful lot of people no longer have any trust in government. You reap what you sow.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:32 pm

The US and Syria

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Kevin Drum has a good post:

Ah crap. A couple of months ago, President Obama caved in to the hawks and announced $127 million in “nonlethal” aid to the Syrian rebels. Today he caved in again and trotted out Ben Rhodes to announce a further escalation. We’ll now be sending some decidedly lethal aid to the rebels:

The United States has concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in its fight against opposition forces, and President Obama has authorized direct U.S. military support to the rebels, the White House said Thursday….Rhodes did not detail what he called the expanded military support, but it is expected initially to consist of light arms and ammunition. He said the shipments would be “responsive to the needs” expressed by the rebel command.

The next step, of course, is to cave in to the hawks and send the rebels the antitank and antiaircraft weaponry they want. I figure, what? Another couple of months before Obama decides to do that? Then the no-fly zone. Then….something else.

The official justification for the new arms shipments is verification of some “small scale” use of sarin gas by the Assad regime. However, the real justification seems to be this: . . .

Continue reading.

He includes this video, well worth watching. It’s less than 5 minutes:

 

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:21 pm

Raise wages to increase demand and help the economy

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Of course, not every employer can comply with that directive, but the U.S. government can. Received as an email:

Pop quiz: which of the following is the biggest creator of low wage jobs in the United States?

A)     Wal-Mart
B)     McDonalds
C)    The United States Government

If you answered A or B, you’re wrong.

The United States Government is the largest creator of low wage jobs in the country, with federal contractors employing over 2,000,000 Americans in jobs that pay less than a living wage – that’s more than Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined.

What does it mean for these federal government contractors, companies making profits directly from our tax dollars, to pay less than a living wage to their workers? It means a single mom working full time can’t afford even the basics for herself and her family. Her government-created job doesn’t provide health care or retirement benefits for herself or her children, and her job doesn’t pay enough to afford both groceries and rent. And by paying workers so little, we actually end up spending more on programs like food, housing assistance, and Medicaid.

This is a huge problem with an easy fix. All that President Obama needs to do is sign an executive order to require all federal contractors to comply with the Service Contract Act, an act which requires all other federal workers make a living wage.

Tell President Obama: sign an executive order and pay our workers a living wage. Click here to sign and share with your friends.

By paying these workers a living wage, we would millions of hard working Americans the money they need to cover basics, to spend in our economy and to grow our middle class. We would lift these families out of poverty, empower these workers, and strengthen our country’s economy.

By signing an executive order, President Obama can pay these workers a living wage. Click here and tell him to sign the order.

Mike Lux
American Family Voices

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hopeful sign

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Pete Kasperowicz reports in The Hill:

The House voted Thursday evening to put limits on President Obama’s power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens who are terrorist suspects, but rejected a proposal to eliminate the authority altogether.

In a close 214-211 vote, members approved an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that says nothing in U.S. law can deny citizens the right to a court hearing. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the amendment, and only three Democrats voted for it.

Many believe the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) gives the president the authority to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens. Goodlatte said his language is aimed at resolving the issue.

“Today with this amendment, I want to make clear that nothing in the AUMF or the fiscal year 2012 NDAA or any other law for that matter can be construed to deny the great writ of habeas corpus,” he said.

“This is an important amendment that should alleviate any of the well-founded concerns of the American people concerning the possibility of indefinite detention of United States citizens.”

But the issue was not as clear to other members of the House. Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Goodlatte’s language does not go far enough, as it still gives the president too much power.

“Even with this amendment, the president of the United States, the Department of Justice, will still have the ability to indefinitely detain people captured in the U.S., be they U.S. citizens or not, without the normal due process of law,” Smith said.

Smith added that it would create two different standards for habeas corpus: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:12 pm

Protecting people in their child-bearing years

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E.J. Graff shines a light on a despicable practice:

Would you lose your job if, for a few months, you had to run to the bathroom more often than your coworkers? Or your doctor told you to carry a water bottle and drink as often as possible? Or if you were told you couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds for a few months?

Probably not, if you’re a white-collar worker. And probably not, if you’re a blue- or pink-collar worker—a janitor, factory worker, health aide, retail clerk—who’s strained your back or has some other condition covered as a temporary disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Amendments Act (ADAAA, or “AD triple A,” as the insiders say it) of 2008.

But yes, you might well lose your job for that if you’re pregnant.

Pregnancy doesn’t qualify as a disability. So if you’re a pregnant low-wage worker, your boss could very well tell you that if you can’t follow the workplace’s standard rules—about bathroom breaks, water bottles, standing all day, or carrying trash bags weighing up to 30 pounds—you have to stay home without pay. And that after you have the baby and you’ve used up the three months of unpaid leave that’s guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act,you have to either come right back or lose your job.

Fair? No. Legal? Well, that’s open to question—but it’s happening, undeniably. Fixable? Absolutely.

Recently, I spoke with Emily Martin of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) about this problem as well as the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA), introduced on May 14 in both the House (by Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, with a total of 90 cosponsors) and Senate (by Senators Robert Casey and Senator JeanneShaheen, and 12 cosponsors). Martin told me that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 12:07 pm

James Bamford on NSA Secrets, Keith Alexander’s Influence & Massive Growth of Surveillance, Cyberwar

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Democracy Now! has an important interview:

As the U.S. vows to take “all necessary steps” to pursue whistleblower Edward Snowden, James Bamford joins us to discuss the National Security Agency’s secret expansion of government surveillance and cyberwarfare. In his latest reporting for Wired magazine, Bamford profiles NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander and connects the dots on PRISM, phone surveillance and the NSA’s massive spy center in Bluffdale, Utah. Says Bamford of Alexander: “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign or the depth of his secrecy.” The author of “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America,” Bamford has covered the National Security Agency for the last three decades, after helping expose its existence in the 1980s.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: FBI Director Robert Mueller has vowed to take “all necessary steps” to hold whistleblower Edward Snowden responsible for exposing secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. Speaking days after NSAcontractor Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks, Mueller confirmed to the House Judiciary Committee Thursday that the U.S. has launched a criminal investigation.

ROBERT MUELLER: As to the individual who has admitted making these disclosures, he is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation. These disclosures have caused significant harm to our nation and to our safety. We are taking all necessary steps to hold the person responsible for these disclosures. As this matter is actively under investigation, we cannot comment publicly on the details of the investigation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, defended the surveillance programs Wednesday and claimed they had helped prevent dozens of potential terrorist events. Several lawmakers who support the programs pushed the NSA to declassify information about these intercepted plots. Other lawmakers were critical of the monitoring of U.S. citizens. This is Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: It’s my fear that we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state, collecting billions of electronic records on law-abiding Americans every single day.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Snowden has pledged to fight any attempt to extradite him to the United States. In an interview at an undisclosed Hong Kong location published in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, he said, quote, “All I can do is rely on my training and hope that world governments will refuse to be bullied by the United States into persecuting people seeking political refuge.” The Associated Press reports the British government issued a travel alert to airlines around the world not to allow Snowden to fly to the United Kingdom.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by James Bamford, investigative reporter who has covered the National Security Agency for the last three decades, helped expose the NSA’s existence in the 1980s. His most recent book is The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. In his latest article for Wiredmagazine, he profiles NSA Director Keith Alexander in “The Secret War.” He also has a piece on “Connecting the Dots on PRISM, Phone Surveillance, and the NSA’s Massive Spy Center.” Bamford writes of NDA—of NSA head, Alexander, quote, “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy.”

James Bamford, welcome back to Democracy Now! Tell us just who NSA chief Alexander is. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 11:46 am

Why not more press on the motives behind the Boston bombing?

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Mark Ames writes about a peculiar omission in press coverage:

Proud to be from Chechnya, I miss my homeland. #chechnyanpower” — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

“This family [Tsarnaevs] was trying to settle in a number of places but could not properly assimilate anywhere. At the same time, they could always refer to Chechnya, which is seen as a land of noble knights and as a fairy-tale island by many Chechens who have never lived there.” — Maierbek Vatchagayev, president, Association of Caucasian Studies

As soon as the Boston Marathon bombers were identified as two brothers from Chechnya who had been granted political asylum in the US a decade earlier, experts from both the left and the right furiously assured us that the bombings and shootings that left five dead and some 270 wounded had nothing to do with Chechnya or the brothers’ Chechen identity and experience.

On the right, there’s been an effort to hitch the blame all on their two favorite villains: Islam, and Vladimir Putin. The right is more responsible than anyone for coddling and protecting Chechen terrorists and separatists — Washington neocons and their right-wing allies have been assuring us for over a decade that Chechen terrorism isn’t really terrorism, since Chechens only kill Russians. It makes no logical sense, but that hasn’t stopped the neocon/right-wing lobby from arguing all this time that Chechens have some kind of Western-gag-reflex preventing their violence from blowing back this way.

On the left and libertarian side, stories of the Boston Marathon bombings were stripped of just about every relevant and interesting detail. It was all whittled down to a canned cautionary tale on the evils of the US police state. In the left’s defense, at least they’ve been motivated by recent history — previous terror attacks have led to ethnic and religious profiling targeting Muslims. That’s understandable, but it’s not journalism. Willful ignorance in the name of virtue does not tend to illuminate anything.

Meanwhile, US counterterrorism officials played around with their clunky definitions trying to decide if one or both brothers were “self-radicalized” or “never radicalized” or “radicalized on the Internet” or “radicalized in Dagestan.”

With any serious attempt to understand the Tsarnaev brothers, the inadequacy of such facile definitions becomes clear. What made them kill and maim so many Americans when America was the only country that did a lot to improve their lives? And how could it be possible to deny the importance of key aspects of their lives — their personal experiences as Chechens in Russia, their Chechen identity, their rather banal struggles and family infighting as immigrants in the USA.

Of all the myths about Tsarnaevs that “experts” in the media have pushed, the stupidest and most offensive falsehood is the claim that that Chechnya — its violence, wars and savagery — played no role in shaping Tamerlan and his younger brother, Dzhokhar. Tamerlan’s fourth-grade teacher told journalists who bothered asking — German journalists from Focus magazine — that she recalled how traumatized young Tamerlan was from living in Chechnya up through Boris Yeltsin’s invasion and the shelling of the Tsarnaev’s village in 1995. This teacher described Tamerlan as a “refugee from Chechnya, from the war and terrorism.”

And yet, we were assured, Chechnya had nothing to do with shaping the Tsarnaev brothers’ minds or their actions.

Initially, the old right-wing Cold War outfit, the Jamestown Foundation, led the PR campaign to steer attention away from Chechnya — and Jamestown’s “experts” were front and center, cited in just about every major media outlet in the days after the Tsarnaev brothers’ identities were revealed. Unlike other right-wing interests, Jamestown and its allies in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (both Jamestown and RFE/RL[4] were founded by the CIA [5] during the Cold War) downplayed both the Chechnya angle and the extent to which jihadi terrorism dominates the Chechen separatist movement.

On the day of Dhokhar Tsarnaev’s arrest, Jamestown expert Valery Dzutsev posted a blog asking “Did the Tsarnaev Brothers Have Links to Chechen Militants?” [6] Dzutsev answered his own question:

“Little suggests that they were linked to the insurgency movement in the North Caucasus or another jihadi movement..

The most plausible explanation […] is that some personal events triggered a violent response from the Tsarnaev brothers.”

Jamestown expert Mairbek Vatchagaev, amazingly enough, came to the same counter-factual conclusion [7]:

“There is not appear [sic] to be much, if any, indication that Jokhar had any connection to jihadist groups or sympathized with the most well-known terrorist organization in the North Caucasus called the Caucasus Emirate, or any other similar groups. On the contrary, in one of his blog entries, he laments having no American friends, having lived in the country for so long.”

In other words, the Tsarnaevs were just a pair of emo-terrorists.

Over at government propaganda Radio Liberty, Aslan Doukev, who heads the North Caucasus Department, agreed that Chechen identity and the pure-as-gold Chechen separatist movement (which Doukev’s desk has promoted all these years) had zilch to do with the Tsarnaevs’ turn to terrorism, and everything to do with evil Islam, according to the Washington Post [8]:

“One possible explanation for the Boston bombings, said Aslan Doukaev, an expert on the Caucasus who works for Radio Liberty in Prague, is that the brothers were motivated by radical jihadism, not Chechen separatism.”

The usual Islamophobe suspects agreed with Doukaev: the Boston bombing was inspired by evil Islam, not Chechnya or Chechen separatism.

Debbie Schlussel [9] shrieked:

“I note that every single major news broadcast only refers to these guys as “Chechnyan” or “Chechen” terrorists, NOT Islamic terrorists, which is what they are. …Remember, THIS. IS. ISLAM”

…while carrot-top Canuckocon Mark Steyn [10] quipped:

“Strictly between us, I can count what I know about Chechens on one leg…whatever was bugging him didn’t have a lot to do with Chechnya…while the Chechen-nationalist struggle has certainly become more Islamic in the last two decades, it’s a bit of a mystery what it has to do with […] Massachusetts marathons….whatever their particular inheritance, many young Muslims in the West come to embrace a pan-Islamic identity.”

Professor Brian Glyn Williams, who doesn’t like me very much, offered two opposing theories that all but canceled each other out, as reported in the CBC [11]:

“The sheer fact that there’s so much terror in their country [Chechnya] — suicide bombings and catastrophe — you know it’s seems to be too obvious that somehow [it was] the precursor and origins [sic] of this act,” said Williams, though he noted the attack may not have anything to do with the family’s Chechen background.

But the most popular theory among Chechnya-separatist apologists was the most counter-intuitive theory of all: If two self-proclaimed Chechen jihadis set off the Boston Marathon bombings, then obviously Vladimir Putin was behind it. Sure, that’s like blaming 9/11 on Israel, except this is different — if your unfounded conspiracy theory blames Russia, it’s completely reasonable; if it blames the West, it’s a symptom of mental illness, argued [12] BuzzFeed editor,“Buzzbagger” [13] Ben Smith:

Reasonable people have directed truly horrendous allegations at President Vladimir Putin and his security services.

Yes, those “reasonable people” are back again — one of whom, according to BuzzFeed’s editor, is Chechen death squad leader-turned-president, Ramzan Kadyrov: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 10:05 am

Posted in Terrorism

Texas once again leads in the way in a direction no sensible person would go

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Education in Texas is a perilous affair. Joaquin Sapien reports for ProPublica:

June 12, 2013: This story has been updated with Judge Clay Jenkins’s comment and full statement, as well as the Mesquite school district statement on its website.

School tardiness and absences come at a high cost in Dallas, Texas. Gone are the days of detention and writing lines on the chalkboard; now students are fined, even jailed.

The enforcement of the state’s truancy laws, which were strengthened substantially in 2003, have led to a range of abuses, according to a complaint filed Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • Students have been taken out of school in handcuffs, held in jail for days at a time, and fines have totaled more than $1,000 for students who miss more than 10 days of school.
  • The students who are hauled into court to face truancy or lateness charges are not provided with legal counsel. The only lawyers in the courtroom are the judge and a member of the district attorney’s office, unless the student’s family can afford their own representation.
  • Defendants are charged court fees even if they prevail in fighting the accusations, discouraging people from exercising their right to a full hearing.

The complaint, filed by a coalition of advocacy groups for young people and the disabled, targets the Dallas, Garland, Mesquite, and Richardson school districts in Texas and urges the Justice Department to force reforms and “declare the practice of criminally prosecuting children as adults for truancy” a violation of their constitutional rights.

For their part, some school officials, lawmakers, and judges say that the rigid enforcement system has led to improved attendance.

In a statement, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins defended the program.

“The Dallas County system offers the best chance for truant students to get back in class and graduate,” said Jenkins, adding that the courts are staffed by attorneys who specialize in juvenile justice issues, and make use of agencies who work to solve the underlying issues behind the truancy of students.

Certainly, the volume of cases has been striking. Texas adult courts in one recent year handled 113,000 truancy cases. Dallas County truancy court alone collected nearly $3 million in fines. It sent 67 students age 17 and older to jail because of truancy violations, and 53 students younger than 17 to juvenile detention centers. (Statewide records were not available.)

The complaint asserts that the program unfairly targets minorities and underprivileged students, and routinely puts youngsters in jail rather than keeping them in school. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 9:56 am

Posted in Education, Government, Law

Secret agreements to ensure Americans get substandard food

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I detest secret agreements—particularly those agreements that affect the public but are kept secret from the public. Why are they secret? Because the public would be outraged if it knew about them. Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummings report at Alternet:

If you think the U.S. government is doing a sub-par job of keeping your food safe, brace yourself. You could soon be eating imported seafood, beef or chicken products that don’t meet even basic U.S. food safety standards. Under two new trade agreements, currently in negotiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could be powerless to shut down imports of unsafe food or food ingredients. And if it tries, multinational corporations will be able to sue the U.S. government for the loss of anticipated future profits.

More frightening? Negotiations for both agreements are taking place behind closed doors, with input allowed almost exclusively from the corporations and industry trade groups that stand to benefit the most. And the Obama Administration intends to push the agreements through Congress without so much as giving lawmakers access to draft texts, much less the opportunity for debate.

Designed to grease the wheels of world commerce, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would force the U.S. and other participating countries to “harmonize” food safety standards. That means all countries that sign on to the agreement would be required to abide by the lowest common denominator standards of all participating governments. So for instance, say Vietnam allows higher residues of veterinary antibiotics in seafood than the U.S. allows, and Vietnam and the U.S. both sign on to the TPP. As a trade partner, the U.S. could be forced to lower its standards to allow for imports of seafood from Vietnam – or face a lawsuit by the seafood exporter for depriving the company of future sales of its products in the U.S.

The U.S. has already had a taste of this type of policy under the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). In 2005, the Canadian Cattlemen for Fair Trade sued [4] the U.S. government for banning imports of beef and live Canadian cattle after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada. In the end, the U.S. prevailed, but not until it had spent millions to defend itself in court. Mexico wasn’t so fortunate when three companies (Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle and Cargill) sued the Mexican government for preventing imports of high fructose corn syrup. Mexico lost all three cases, and was forced to pay out a total of $169.18 million to the three firms.

Among the many gifts to Big Ag contained in the TTIP and TPP?  Back-door entry [5] for their genetically modified seeds and crops. Countries, including those in the European Union, could find it increasingly difficult to ban, or even require the labeling of, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), if biotech companies determine that those countries’ strict policies restrict fair trade and infringe on the companies’ “rights” to profit.

The TTIP and the TPP are, individually and combined, two of the largest free trade agreements in world history. According to the Citizens Trade Campaign [6] (CTC) the TPP alone covers 40 percent of the global economy. That percentage will likely grow, because the agreement allows for other countries, besides the 12 currently involved, to “dock on” after the agreement is in place.

Both the TTIP and TPP could have dangerous consequences for food safety in the U.S., and around the world. But they’re not limited to food or agriculture policy. Both also contain sweeping policies that could affect everything from the environment and sustainability, to healthcare, Internet freedom and the financial markets. Given the potential of these agreements to shape global policy on so many fronts, it’s reasonable to assume that negotiators would actively solicit, and take into careful consideration, input from the affected parties, including consumers, farmers and governments. Instead they’ve taken the opposite approach. From day one, negotiations for the TTIP and TPP have been shrouded in secrecy. The public and participating governments, including the U.S. Congress, have been shut out of the negotiating process, denied access to everything from early proposals to final draft texts.

Why the secrecy? The Obama Administration wants as little public debate as possible, so it can ram the agreements through Congress using something called “Fast Track.” Fast Track [7], a product of the Nixon presidency, strips Congress of its authority to control the content of a trade deal and hands that authority over to the executive branch. Congress gets a vote, but only after the negotiations have been completed, and the agreements have been signed. No debate. No amendments. Just a fast, forced vote, too late for Congress to have any influence. According to the CTC [6], two-thirds of Democratic freshmen in the U.S. House of Representatives have expressed serious reservations about the TPP negotiations and the prospect of giving Fast Track authority to the President. And more than 400 organizations representing 15 million Americans have already petitioned [8] Congress to do away with Fast Track in favor of a more democratic approach to trade agreement negotiations. So far those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

If the public is shut out, and Congress gets no say, who gets a seat at the table? Corporations. That’s right. The Obama Administration is trusting corporations like Dow AgroSciences, Cargill and DuPont, and trade groups like the Pork Producers Council and Tobacco Associates, Inc., to write food safety policies. In all, more than 600 corporations [9] have been given access to drafts of various chapters of the TPP. Requests for the same level of access, from members of Congress and from the public, have been denied.

No wonder then that, according to leaked drafts obtained by groups like the CTC, Public Citizen and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), the TPP contains proposals designed to give transnational corporations “special rights” that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens, says [10] Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the CTC. Experts who have reviewed the leaked texts say that TPP negotiators propose allowing transnational corporations to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions, including environmental and food safety laws. Corporations will be allowed to resolve trade disputes in special international tribunals. In other words, they get to do an end run around the countries’ domestic judicial systems, effectively wiping out hundreds, if not more, domestic and international food sovereignty laws. . .

Continue reading.

Dark days, and I have greater and greater dislike for Obama as a president. He’s definitely down in C+ territory at this point, and heading south.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 9:52 am

Pope Francis gets some well-deserved love from liberals

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One thing about hierarchical organizations with strict discipline: a new person at the top can quickly make big changes. That’s the advantage dictatorships enjoy over democracy, whose processes are much messier and not so efficient. Thus outlook and values of the new Pope on the role and responsibilities of the Catholic church is having a big impact, as described by Sahil Kapur at TPMDC:

The new Pope’s passion for social justice and lifting up the poor has already earned him the adoration of American liberals just weeks into the Argentinian’s papacy.

In a way, Pope Francis is a progressive’s dream-come-true — a devout figure with enormous credibility among conservatives and Christians, who has used his megaphone to speak out against greed, consumerism and economic policies that alienate the poor and vulnerable.

“I think about those who are unemployed often because of an economic conception of society that seeks egoistic profit regardless of social justice,” Pope Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square last month, in one of his many remarks that have caught the attention of liberals.

“As a progressive I think the Pope kinda rocks,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, the influential think tank with close ties to the White House, said on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” in late May. “He’s been great on so many issues.”

Lifting up the society’s least fortunate has been a central theme for man who replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March.

“The Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them,” Pope Francis said in a May 16 speech to a group of ambassadors. “The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.”

It’s a delightful change for liberals accustomed to a Catholic Church that has for the last generation focused its preachings on social conservatism, which inspired many American conservatives as they fought against abortion and gay rights.

“Pope Francis’ speech is very similar to our message at the AFL-CIO,” said Damon Silvers, policy director and special counsel for the country’s largest labor union. “The values expressed by the Pope are the values the labor movement embraces.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2013 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

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