Later On

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Archive for June 27th, 2013

Time for a new Church Committee to bring NSA/FBI/DOJ/et al. under control?

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Timothy Lee writes in the Washington Post:

In the wake of Watergate, Democrats won large majorities in both houses of Congress in the midterm elections of 1974. One of the first items on the new Congress’ agenda was to investigate the intelligence abuses of Richard Nixon and his predecessors. In the Senate, this effort was chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). His committee examined the actions of the FBI, CIA, NSA and other agencies between World War II and the 1970s.

Their results were stunning. Investigators learned that the NSA had been engaging inwarrantless surveillance of Americans’ international telegrams and had illegally opened traditional mail sent between the United States and communist countries. The CIA and FBI both spied on and harassed domestic civil rights and antiwar protesters. In one infamous incident, the FBI bugged Martin Luther King’s hotel rooms, obtained evidence of infidelity and then attempted to use the tapes to blackmail King into killing himself. [And recently we discovered that the CIA had agents working with the NYPD on domestic issues, something quite explicitly against the law. – LG]

Loch K. Johnson had a unique perspective on the Senate proceedings. As the committee staffer designated to assist Church, he says he spent more time with the chairman than anyone else on the staff. In 1985, he wrote a book about the experience.

Today he’s a professor at the University of Georgia. We spoke by telephone  Wednesday. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Timothy B. Lee: How do you evaluate the legacy of the Church Committee?

Loch Johnson: I think overall the purpose of the Church committee was to make sure the intelligence community understood that it was part of the U.S. government, that it wasn’t some special entity that didn’t require regulation or oversight. In a way, the CIA and other agencies were brought into the framework of checks and balances. The Church Committee led to the founding of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). That made oversight as different as night and day. Before, very few hearings and minimal oversight. After the Church Committee, you had two robust committees with sizable staffs of lawyers and others. It really was a dramatic change.

The committee had the right instincts and its report was supported by Republicans and Democrats. [Committee members] John Tower (R-Tex.) and Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) were unhappy with Church on some things. But on the assassination report [describing the CIA’s attempts to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro], Church and Tower worked like Siamese twins.

I think if Frank Church were here to talk about it, he would agree that SSCI and HPSCI have fallen short of their hopes. He hoped there would be regular scrutiny of intelligence programs. It’s turned out that that’s been an up and down proposition. Sometimes, after media reports on scandal or failure, [we get vigorous oversight]. Sometimes it’s quite lax.

 Church Committee staffer Fritz Schwartz once expressed a fear that dedicated intelligence committees would be co-opted by the intelligence agencies. Do you think that fear has been borne out by our experience with the SSCI and HPSCI? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 3:53 pm

The mantis shrimp: Watch out!

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UPDATE: The Wife says that the mantis shrimp is the honey badger of the ocean.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Lawyers said Bush couldn’t spy on Americans. He did it anyway.

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And he got away with it, just as he got away with ordering torture, lying to get the US to invade a country that was no threat to us, and in general made a public and noisome ass of himself. Timothy Lee writes at Wonkblog in the Washington Post:

remarkable document released by The Guardian gives the public its first in-depth look at the legal process that justified the dragnet surveillance programs undertaken during President George W. Bush’s first term. And they make clear that lots of people involved in the process — government lawyers, judges, and the lawyers of private telecommunications companies — believed the Bush administration had stepped over the legal line.

The revelations come from a report written by the Office of the Inspector General at the National Security Agency. The document, marked “Top Secret” was leaked to The Guardian by Edward Snowden. It is dated March 24, 2009.According to the document:

The NSA began targeting communications between the United States and Afghanistan just three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. When Vice President Dick Cheney asked whether the NSA could be doing more, NSA director Michael Hayden responded that “nothing else could be done with existing NSA authorities.” The NSA found the judicial review process required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act too cumbersome for the broad-ranging surveillance the agency believed was necessary to keep track of terrorist activities.

But rather than asking Congress to amend FISA, President Bush took the law into his own hands on Oct. 4, 2001. He signed an “Authorization,” drafted by vice presidential counsel David Addington, purporting to give the NSA broad authority to intercept telephone and Internet communications if at least one party to the communication was located outside the United States.

The White House Office of Legal counsel wrote a legal opinion defending the legality of wiretapping based on Bush’s Authorization. The White House refused two requests by NSA lawyers to see this document, though Addington did “read a few paragraphs of the opinion” over the phone to NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz. The NSA’s inspector general stated that he found it “strange that NSA was told to execute a secret program that everyone knew presented legal questions, without being told the underpinning legal theory.”

The surveillance required the assistance of private-sector telecommunications companies. While some firms readily agreed to participate, others balked at the idea of violating their customers’ privacy without a court order. The report discusses the NSA’s discussions with seven firms labeled “Company A” through “Company G.” Companies A through D participated in the NSA program. “The Company E General Counsel ultimately decided not to support NSA.” Company F “did not participate because of corporate liability concerns.” The NSA dropped Company G from the program after it insisted on consulting outside counsel before agreeing to participate.

The report says that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was not even informed about this secret surveillance until Jan. 31, 2002, more than three months after the program began. After Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly was sworn in as the Chief Judge of the FISC in May 2002, she was briefed on the program and allowed to read a memo summarizing the White House’s legal justification, but she was not allowed to “retain it for study.”

In March 2004, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice concluded that one part of the NSA’s surveillance program “was prohibited by the terms of FISA and Title III.” Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputies resisted White House pressure to sign off on the program. But rather than shut down that aspect of the program, the President had the White House Counsel sign an Authorization for the program, instead of the Attorney General, on March 11. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 3:23 pm

That didn’t take long: Some states are already moving to prevent people from voting

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The big plan for the GOP is to prevent people from voting: that’s how much confidence the GOP has in their platforms and programs. Joseph Diebold writes at ThinkProgress.org:

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:

  • Texas: The Lone Star State saw its strict voter ID law and redistricting plan blocked by the DOJ and federal courts last year. Just two hours after Tuesday’s decision came down, the state’s attorney general issued a statement suggesting both laws may go into effect immediately [2]. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed slightly modified congressional maps [3] into law, apparently deciding not to veto them and reinstate the more blatantly discriminatory maps blocked by the court. These new maps will not be screened by the DOJ. And Thursday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated two federal court decisions [4] that had relied upon the VRA in blocking the voter ID law and redistricting plan.
  • Mississippi: The state legislature approved a voter ID scheme in 2012, but it has not received DOJ clearance. Despite the restrictions, Mississippi’s secretary of state said Tuesday they would proceed with implementing the voter ID law and that “We’re not the same old Mississippi that our fathers’ fathers were. [5]“
  • Alabama: In 2011, the state passed a law requiring photo ID to vote, but never cleared it with the DOJ. Both the attorney general and the secretary of state said Tuesday they believed their plans could now be implemented in time for the 2014 elections [6].
  • Arkansas: In April, the Arkansas legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto to pass their voter ID legislation. With preclearance out of the way, the state law can now be implemented without DOJ review.
  • South Carolina: The Palmetto State passed a similar voter ID law in 2012, but DOJ at least succeeded in delaying its implementation[7]. South Carolina’s attorney general issued a statement following the decision [8], lauding the Court for allowing the preclearance states to “to implement reasonable election reforms, such as voter ID laws similar to South Carolina’s.”
  • Virginia: Unlike several of the other states, Virginia’s voter ID plan was not scheduled to be implemented until July 2014 anyway. But unless Congress replaces the preclearance formula before then, Virginia will also likely be able to move forward with its plan [9].

These moves mean that of the nine preclearance states, only Alaska, Arizona (which just had its own voter ID law struck down [10]), and Georgia (whose own voted ID law was likely ruled unconstitutional in the same decision [11]) have not moved to restrict the right to vote in less than two days since the ruling. The Court’s majority held that the formula for determining which states are subject to federal oversight is outdated, leaving the law without any jurisdictions requiring preclearance. If these states are any evidence, they may have just opened the door for massive disenfranchisement.

The GOP has  become completely corrupt.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government, Law

People for whom contempt is too good

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Scalia’s in that category, and so is Braulio Castillo, is the president and CEO of Strong Castle Inc. He is being question in a video by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a double-amputee and Iraqi War veteran (whom Rahm Emmanuel treated quite shabbily) that appears on CBSNews.com:

Iraq war veteran and double amputee Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., angrily heaped scorn Wednesday onto an IRS contractor who used a military prep school injury from 27 years ago to qualify for disabled veteran status, accusing him of misrepresenting his injury to game the VA system and obtain preferential treatment for his company’s bidding on IRS contracts.

The contractor, Braulio Castillo, is the president and CEO of Strong Castle Inc., which has recently drawn scrutiny over hundreds of millions of dollars worth of questionable IRS contracts it has received. Investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have said that Castilllo claimed the injury and intentionally located the company in a government-designated “hubzone” to make his company’s bids for IRS contracts more competitive.

Castillo, who is from Northern Virginia, could not seem to recall how he injured his ankle in the first place – by playing football or orienteering. He also claimed it had been broken, but the Oversight Committee said x-rays taken at the time did not reflect a fracture. The VA did award him disability status and currently sends him a monthly check.

Under intense questioning from Duckworth, Castillo said he did not believe he misrepresented his injury to the Veterans Affairs department, but Duckworth wasn’t buying it.

“My feet hurt, too,” she said after Castillo described the pain in his left foot. “In fact the balls of my feet burn continuously and I feel like there is a nail being hammered into my right heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering and how severed connection can actually cause long term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain. So I’m sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful way, if also opportune for you to gain this status for your business as you were trying to compete for contracts.”

Castillo was given a disability rating of 30 percent by the VA, which he defended as a justifiable assessment, but Duckworth again slammed him for misrepresenting the extent of his injury. “You know, my right arm was essentially blown off and reattached. I spent a year in limb salvage with over a dozen surgeries over that time period, and in fact, we thought that we would lose my arm, and I’m still in danger of possibly losing my arm. I can’t feel it, I can’t feel my three fingers.”

“My disability rating is 20 percent,” she said.

After reading from a letter Castillo sent to a government official in which he described the “crosses that I bear in my service to our great country,” Duckworth, visibly angry, shamed Castillo for comparing his football injury with the heroism of veterans.

“I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country,” she said. “Shame on you, Mr. Castillo, shame on you. You may not have broken any laws…but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans right now are waiting an average of 237 days for an initial disability rating. It is because people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog that young men and women who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, who are missing limbs cannot get the compensation and the help that they need.”

“You, who never picked up a weapon in defense of this great nation, very cynically took advantage of the system,” she continued. “You broke the faith with this nation, you broke the faith with the men and women who lie in hospitals right now ….and if this nation stops funding veterans’ health care and stops and calls into question why veterans deserve their benefits, it’s because cases like you have poisoned the public’s opinion on these programs.”

Another IRS official invokes Fifth Amendment, declines to testify

“I hope that you think twice about the example that you are setting for your children,” she said. “I hope that you would think twice about what you are dong to the nation, this nation’s veterans who are willing to die to protect this nation. Twisting your ankle is prep school is not defending or serving this nation, Mr. Castillo.”

Also at Wednesday’s hearing, Gregory Roseman, the deputy director of Enterprise Networks and Tier Systmes Support at the IRS, invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and declined to testify before the committee. Roseman, a friend of Castillo’s, is accused of improperly helping to steer contracts to his friend’s company.

Roseman’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment marks the second time in recent weeks that an IRS official has declined to testify before Congress by invoking their constitutional rights.

Continue reading.

Here’s an 8-minute part of the questioning—other videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 1:36 pm

Why unions are needed: Corporations love to exploit workers

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Michael Grabell has a good example reported in ProPublica:

It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent.

In cities all across the country, workers stand on street corners, line up in alleys or wait in a neon-lit beauty salon for rickety vans to whisk them off to warehouses miles away. Some vans are so packed that to get to work, people must squat on milk crates, sit on the laps of passengers they do not know or sometimes lie on the floor, the other workers’ feet on top of them.

This is not Mexico. It is not Guatemala or Honduras. This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston.

The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies – Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers.

Many get by on minimum wage, renting rooms in rundown houses, eating dinners of beans and potatoes, and surviving on food banks and taxpayer-funded health care. They almost never get benefits and have little opportunity for advancement.

Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy, leading to the proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm.

In June, the Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Overall, almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows. But according to the American Staffing Association, the temp industry’s trade group, the pool is even larger: Every year, a tenth of all U.S. workers finds a job at a staffing agency. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

Hallucinogens in Addiction Treatment

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Interesting article by Kelly Bourdet at TheFix.com:

“The room instantly lit up in a blinding glare of white, white light. I was seized by an ecstasy such as I had never known,” wrote AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, of his first spiritual experience.He was dropping acid as part of an informal study supervised by a doctor in the ‘50s, when LSD was legal and the power of psychedelic-assisted therapy was heralded as potentially transformative.

So began a lifelong interest in altered states of consciousness that included extensive experiments with LSD. Wilson claimed that his initial experiences were crucial to his recovery and his belief in his mission to create a community of alcoholics helping one another. He was so enthusiastic that he contemplated advising other AA members to take acid, especially those incapable of feeling “a power greater than ourselves.” Still, he acknowledged the limits of its possible benefits: “I don’t believe [LSD] has any miraculous property of transforming…sick people into healthy ones overnight,” he wrote to a fellow participant in the study. “[But] it can set up a shining goal on the positive side [and] create a large incentive [to recovery.]”

The AA fellowship disagreed. The idea of treating those who cannot control their substance use with another substance seemed, then as now, heretical. The link between spirituality and sobriety, however, remains a mainstay of modern recovery.

Today, some four decades after the counter-culture’s widespread recreational use of hallucinogens led to criminalization of the substances, there’s a resurgence of interest in their therapeutic potential for mental illness and addiction. A dozen or more studies of LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and MDMA (ecstasy) are ongoing in the US, Britain, Israel and Switzerland; a handful of others have recently concluded. Most of the patients involved in these studies are in dire straits: vets with PTSD, the terminally ill who have a terror of death, people with treatment-resistant depression and alcoholics.

The results are consistently positive. Indeed, the PTSD and cancer studies have garnered big headlines recently for their exceptionally beneficial outcomes. But these are tiny pilot studies—and because the drugs are still illegal and mired in controversy and stigma, research is likely to remain stalled.

Advances in neuroscience, coupled with the new model of mental illness and addiction as brain diseases, are largely responsible for rekindling this research. Neurons and their transmitters, receptors, pathways and the like are increasingly viewed as the source of the “self” and perception, cognition, emotion and other functions. Psychedelics have a uniquely powerful, even explosive, effect on both your neurochemistry and your “self.” But the trip itself typically only lasts for about 12 hours. Whether these “mystical” effects deliver enduring benefits is the question researchers seek to answer, for only then could these substances become “medicines.”

Rick Doblin believes the answer is yes. He’s the founder and president of the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which funds pilot studies and advocates for these drugs’ use in legal medical settings. “Addiction involves past material, a lot of denial and running away. Psychedelics bring material to the surface in ways where people need to surrender to them; it’s hard to hide from yourself under [them],” says Dobin. “The other part is more positive. People often have a spiritual sense of connection that they can later draw strength from.”

Psychedelic-based treatment can cause elevation in mood, openness and changes in values—which, for people with substance use disorders, can cause a reduction in craving, increase in motivation and, ultimately, a reduction in use, says Michael Bogenschutz, MD, a psychiatry professor at the University of New Mexico. “[But] the tricky thing is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 1:02 pm

The meshing of government and corporations

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Another very good post at TomDispatch:

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, now charged with violating the Espionage Act, has opened a Pandora’s box of American global surveillance for the rest of us to be stunned by.  Every day a new revelation, a new set of secrets or information, seems to pour out from somewhere — without Hope, that last denizen of Pandora’s famous container, yet in sight.  No matter what any of us already knew (or guessed at or imagined), this rolling, roiling set of revelations, not likely to end soon, should expand our vision of the world we live in, especially the shadow world of those who covertly watch us.

Recent examples would include the Associated Press’s reminder that the Prism program Snowden, Glenn Greenwald of the British Guardian, and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post brought to global attention is actually “a relatively small part of a much more expansive and intrusive eavesdropping effort” in which the NSA “snatches data as it passes through the fiber optic cables that make up the Internet’s backbone. That program, which has been known for years, copies Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the United States, then routes it to the NSA for analysis.”  (British intelligence — yet another revelation of the last week — acts similarly and shares with the NSA what it finds off such fiber optic cables, including “recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook, and the history of any internet user’s access to websites.”)

You would have to add as well NSA expert and author James Bamford’s recent exploration of how General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, brought war to the Internet, developing and launching the first cyberwar in history against Iran’s nuclear program.  The man known as “Alexander the Geek” has also, Bamford tells us, encouraged and gotten lavish funding for the creation of an ever more elaborate universe of cyberwarriors, including private contractors. (In the meantime, President Obama has secretly ordered his top intelligence officials and cyberwarriors to draw up a list of possible future cyber-targets.)

Last week at the New York Times, James Risen and Nick Wingfield slid through the new revolving door that’s taking top Silicon Valley pros into the well-paying shadows of American surveillance in a Vulcan mind meld between the corporate giants of the Internet and U.S. intelligence.  Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert Mueller, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, let us in on a future horror that turns out to be yesterday’s nightmare: FBI drones are already in the air domestically, possibly over your hometown surveilling… well, maybe you. Mueller, however, couldn’t have been more reassuring on the subject.  The Bureau, he told the senators, uses drones “in a very, very minimal way and very seldom… we have very few.” And p.s., the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are both testing drones for similar use. But undoubtedly very minimally and very few, so don’t fret.

And last but hardly least, thanks again to the Guardian, we know that warrants issued by a secret FISA court provide the NSA with a loophole into domestic surveillance large enough to drive an up-armored Humvee through. “Top secret documents submitted to the court that oversees surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies show the judges have signed off on broad orders which allow the NSA to make use of information ‘inadvertently’ collected from domestic U.S. communications without a warrant.” And what can’t qualify as “inadvertent,” after all?  As Timothy Lee of the Washington Post points out, “These documents look more like legislation than search warrants. They define legal concepts, describe legal standards to be applied, and specify procedures for NSA officials to follow… But rather than being drafted, debated and enacted by Congress, the documents were drafted by Obama administration lawyers and reviewed by the FISC.”

In other words, we are in a new world and as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the just-published memoir, The Faraway Nearby, writes, it’s one in which big government’s most oppressive powers, increasingly on display, are meshing wonderfully with big business’s most oppressive intrusions on our lives.  We await the Edward Snowden of Google. Tom

Welcome to the (Don’t Be) Evil Empire 
Google Eats the World 
By Rebecca Solnit

Finally, journalists have started criticizing in earnest the leviathans of Silicon Valley, notably Google, now the world’s third-largest company in market value. The new round of discussion began even before the revelations that the tech giants were routinely sharing our data with the National Security Agency, or maybe merging with it. Simultaneously another set of journalists, apparently unaware that the weather has changed, is still sneering at San Francisco, my hometown, for not lying down and loving Silicon Valley’s looming presence.

The criticism of Silicon Valley is long overdue and some of the critiques are both thoughtful and scathing. The New Yorker, for example, has explored howstart-ups are undermining the purpose of education at Stanford University,addressed the Valley’s messianic delusions and political meddling, andconsidered Apple’s massive tax avoidance.

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece that startled me, especially when I checked the byline. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the fugitive in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, focused on The New Digital Age, a book by top Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen that to him exemplifies the melding of the technology corporation and the state.  It is, he claimed, a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of our leading “witch doctors who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the twenty-first century.”  He added, “This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley.”

What do the U.S. government and Silicon Valley already have in common? Above all, they want to remain opaque while making the rest of us entirely transparent through the capture of our data. What is arising is simply a new form of government, involving vast entities with the reach and power of government and little accountability to anyone.

Google, the company with the motto “Don’t be evil,” is rapidly becoming an empire. Not an empire of territory, as was Rome or the Soviet Union, but an empire controlling our access to data and our data itself. Antitrust lawsuits proliferating around the company demonstrate its quest for monopoly control over information in the information age. Its search engine has become indispensable for most of us, and as Google critic and media professor Siva Vaidhyanathan puts it in his 2012 book The Googlization of Everything, “[W]e now allow Google to determine what is important, relevant, and true on the Web and in the world. We trust and believe that Google acts in our best interest. But we have surrendered control over the values, methods, and processes that make sense of our information ecosystem.” And that’s just the search engine.

About three-quarters of a billion people use Gmail, which conveniently gives Google access to the content of their communications (scanned in such a way that they can target ads at you). Google tried and failed to claim proprietary control of digital versions of every book ever published; librarians and publishers fought back on that one. As the New York Times reported last fall, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, summed the situation up this way: “Google continues to profit from its use of millions of copyright-protected books without regard to authors’ rights, and our class-action lawsuit on behalf of U.S. authors continues.”

The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog wrote to the attorney general on June 12th urging him “to block Google’s just announced $1 billion acquisition of Waze, developers of a mobile mapping application, on antitrust grounds… Google already dominates the online mapping business with Google Maps. The Internet giant was able to muscle its way to dominance by unfairly favoring its own service ahead of such competitors as Mapquest in its online search results. Now with the proposed Waze acquisition, the Internet giant would remove the most viable competitor to Google Maps in the mobile space. Moreover it will allow Google access to even more data about online activity in a way that will increase its dominant position on the Internet.”

The company seems to be cornering the online mapping business, seems in fact to be cornering so many things that eventually they may have us cornered. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 12:15 pm

Insider Trading Rules Don’t Apply To Congress

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Congress is always careful to exempt itself from requirements it places on businesses, organizations, and individuals. For example, Congress exempted itself from a whole handful of labor laws. It’s a despicable practice, but, hey! Congress!

WashingtonsBlog.com has a good post:

I’ve repeatedly pointed out that Wall Street executives are incentivized to lie, cheat and steal. So – of course – they will continue to lie, cheat and steal.

I’ve repeatedly noted that Wall Street owns the politicians:

  • Lobbyists from the financial industry have paid hundreds of millions to Congress and the Obama administration. They have bought virtually all of the key congress members and senators on committees overseeing finances and banking. The Congress people who receive the most money from lobbyists are the most opposed to regulation. See thisthisthisthisthisthis, and this.
  • Obama received more donations from Goldman Sachs and the rest of the financial industry than almost anyone else
  • Summers and the rest of Obama’s economic team have made many millions – even in the first few months of being appointed, or right beforehand – from the financial industry

The chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University (Donald J. Boudreaux) says that it is inaccurate to call politicians prostitutes. Specifically, he says that they are more correct to call them “pimps”, since they are pimping out the American people to the financial giants:

Real whores, after all, personally supply the services their customers seek. Prostitutes do not steal; their customers pay them voluntarily. And their customers pay only with money belonging to these customers.

In contrast, members of Congress routinely truck and barter with other people’s property…

Members of Congress are less like whores than they are like pimps for persons unwillingly conscripted to perform unpleasant services.

***

Politicians force taxpayers to pony it up — just as the services rendered for a pimp’s customers are rendered not by that pimp personally, but by the ladies under his charge. The pimp pockets the bulk of each payment; he’s pleased with the transaction. His customer gets serviced well in return;he’s pleased with the transaction. The only loser is the prostitute forced to share her precious assets with strangers whom she doesn’t particularly care for and who care nothing for her.

Also like the ladies under pimps’ power, taxpayers who resist being exploited risk serious consequences to their persons and pocketbooks. Uncle Sam doesn’t treat kindly taxpayers who try to avoid the obligations that he assigns to them. Government is a great deal more powerful, and often nastier, than is the typical taxpayer. Practically speaking, the taxpayer has little choice but to perform as government demands.

So to call politicians “whores” is to unduly insult women who either choose or who are forced into the profession of prostitution. These women aggress against no one; like all other respectable human beings, they do their best to get by as well as they can without violating other people’s rights.

The real villains in the prostitution arena are those pimps who coerce women into satisfying the lusts of strangers. Such pimps pocket most of the gains earned by the toil and risks involuntarily imposed upon the prostitutes they control. No one thinks this arrangement is fair or justified. No one gives pimps the title of “Honorable.” Decent people don’t care what pimps think or suppose that pimps have any special insights into what is good or bad for the women under their command. Decent people don’t pretend that pimps act chiefly for the benefit of their prostitutes. Decent people believe that pimps should be in prison.

Yet Americans continue to imagine that the typical representative or senator is an upstanding citizen, a human being worthy of being feted and listened to as if he or she possesses some unusually high moral or intellectual stature.

It’s closer to the truth to see politicians as pimps who force ordinary men and women to pony up freedoms and assets for the benefit of clients we call “special-interest groups.”

But it’s not only that the politicos have been bought and paid for. They – like Wall Street titans – areincentivized to lie, cheat and steal.

Specifically, Congress members and Senators can trade on inside information.

As Forbes’ blogger Kyle Smith notes notes: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Congress

Justice Scalia’s overt hypocrisy

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I’ve already blogged Scalia’s lack of honesty, but it still staggers me. Here’s a good, short, and pointed summary by Jamelle Bouie and Bryce Stuki at The American Prospect:

The opening lines of Antonin Scalia’s dissent in United States v. Windsor—where a 5–4 majority of the Supreme Court overturned the 1997 Defense of Marriage Act on equal protection grounds—are straightforward: “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation.”

For anyone interested in judicial restraint, it’s a compelling case. Too bad Scalia doesn’t fit that description. To wit, this unwillingness to strike down “democratically adopted legislation” was nonexistent just yesterday, when he joined John Roberts’s opinion on Shelby County, Albama v. Holder. There, he agreed with the Chief Justice’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, despite the fact that it had been reauthorized by a near-unanimous Congress in 2006.

What explains the difference between the two laws? Easy. Scalia (and Roberts, for that matter) don’t believe that racism is a problem anymore, so they don’t like the idea of the federal government using its power to stop racial discrimination in voting. But they do like the idea of a federal government that disadvantages same-sex couples (it’s worth reading Scalia’s previous thoughts on LGBT Americans), and so in the case of DOMA, the majority’s will must be preserved!

The hypocrisy is stunning, and—given the likely restrictions on voting that will come as a result of the VRA decision—infuriating.

Note that Scalia is making the best argument he can—it’s just that his arguments are no good.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Government, Law

The Megastate and Other States

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Very interesting post by William Pfaff:

Global domination is a relatively recent ambition of nations. Wars of religion and ideology existed in Europe, notably the wars of religion that ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, establishing the system of state sovereignty, and the French revolutionary wars, ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Peace did not prevail after 1815, but among the European great powers peace was recognized as of general interest. Beyond the mounting Franco-German rivalry, nineteenth century conflicts mainly were dynastic or reflected the rise of nationalism inside the Ottoman and Hapsburg systems, presaging what was to come in the twentieth century. There was a relative stability in Europe before 1914 that would not exist again until the hostile stability of the bi-polar Cold War.

The Cold War did not seem a Cold Peace to those of us who lived through it, but that is what it was. Communists and America and its allies fought their ideological wars in Asia by proxy – which is what frightened Washington, which saw ideological Communism as an aggressive program that could sweep Asia, Latin America and Africa. That was paranoia, but Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, and their successors, were still trying to establish or support anti-Communist dictatorships in Argentina, Nicaragua, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, and in the Caribbean until the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union and of Maoism.

The late international relations theorist Kenneth Waltz (who died in May) was right to say that the Cold War produced stability, and that nuclear weapons proliferation in the non-Western world tended to pacify international relations. According to that judgment, a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Israel would be compelled to get along. The effort of Israel to block Iran from acquiring nuclear power follows from Israel’s permanent policy of destroying any challenge to its military domination of the region. Even its security guarantee by the United States is not enough. (After all, the U.S. might acquire an interest in cooperating with one or another of Israel’s enemies.)

Post-Cold War world military domination has proven not enough for the United States. As Waltz said in 2011, in an oral history interview at the University of California at Berkeley, in the post-Cold War unipolar world, the United States “abuses its power, singling out poor, weak countries — that’s what we specialize in – and beating them up.” As Professor Waltz did not add in that interview, this has not been a successful policy, since Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (and Iran) have all taken the worst the U.S. has been able (or willing) to do to them and emerged defiant, going their own ways – as, for that matter, have Panama, Grenada, Venezuela and Cuba.

World domination, as it is conceived in American think-tanks, would purportedly impose democratic client regimes everywhere and extirpate Islamic religious fanaticism, both goals inherently impossible to achieve by whatever military or political means, as history has repeatedly demonstrated. One does not have to be a Realist academic political theorist, like Professor Waltz, to see that — merely a person of simple common sense.

Now the Obama administration has . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Government

Are “Intelligence” and Instigation Running Riot?

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TomDispatch.com regularly runs thoughtful and important articles. I encourage you to add it to your RSS reader—and currently I’m using Feedly.com. (I’m interested in Digg Reader, but despite published stories saying that it was available on Tuesday, I still have not been able to find it to use it.)

Here’s today’s column by Todd Gitlin with an introduction by Tom Englehardt:

Back in the early 1970s, I worked for Pacific News Service (PNS), a small antiwar media outfit that operated out of the Bay Area Institute (BAI), a progressive think tank in San Francisco.  The first story I ever wrote for PNS came about because an upset U.S. Air Force medic wanted someone to know about the American war wounded then pouring in from the invasion of Laos.  So he snuck me onto Travis Air Force Base in northern California and into a military hospital to interview wigged-out guys with stumps for limbs who thought the war was a disaster.  In some cases, they also thought we should have bombed the Vietnamese “back to the stone age.”

I was a good boy from the 1950s and sneaking onto that base made me nervous indeed.  It was also the most illegal act I encountered at either PNS or the institute in those years.  We did, of course, regularly have active duty antiwar soldiers and members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War pass through our office, and we had an antiwar GI in Vietnam writing for us under a pseudonym.  (At some point, we found out that the Pentagon had actually tracked down and interviewed every soldier in Vietnam with that pseudonymous name in its attempt to uncover our journalist.)

In any case, we doggedly researched, reported, wrote, and edited our stories on U.S. war policy, which we syndicated, with modest success, to mainstream newspapers as well as what, in those days, was romantically called “the underground press.” The only hints of “violence” you might have stumbled across in our office would have been discussions of the violence of U.S. war policy.

So imagine my surprise — okay, I shouldn’t have been, but I was anyway — when years later one of my co-workers got his FBI files thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, and it became clear, on reading through those heavily redacted, semi-blacked-out pages, that there had been an informer in our office, spying on us and feeding information to the Bureau.  If that was true in a modest place like PNS/BAI, where wouldn’t there have been such spies in the world of the antiwar movement?  In fact, U.S. government informers and sometimesagents provocateurs were, it seems, a widespread phenomenon of those years.  It’s a story that has never fully been told, in part obviously because the information to tell it just isn’t fully there.  By far the best account I’ve read on the subject, particularly when it comes to agents provocateurs — government agents sent in to provoke violence — was a section of Todd Gitlin’s 1980 book The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left.

Recently, as Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations about the high-tech gathering of global (and domestic) communications of every imaginable sort began unspooling, Gitlin’s work came to mind again. I had certainly been aware of how many post-9/11 “terror” cases against American Muslims rested on the acts and testimony of government informers, who sometimes even provided (fake) weaponry to hapless plotters and the spark to begin plotting in the first place.  I began to wonder, however, what we didn’t know about the low-tech side of America’s massive intelligence overreach.  So I picked up the phone and called Gitlin.  The answer, as his piece today indicates, is one hell of a horrifying lot.  Among the few outfits to pay significant attention to spies and informers in the ranks of groups opposed to some aspect of Washington’s policies, the ACLU stands out.  In fact, in a map that organization created, “Spying on First Amendment Activity — State by State,” you can take a Mr. Toad’s wild ride through what’s known of the universe of the twenty-first century American informer.  TomDispatch is pleased to follow up with a Mr. Todd’s wild ride through the thickets of American intelligence clearly on the march domestically. Tom

The Wonderful American World of Informers and Agents Provocateurs 
Close Encounters of the Lower-Tech Kind 
By Todd Gitlin

Only Martians, by now, are unaware of the phone and online data scooped upby the National Security Agency (though if it turns out that they are aware, the NSA has surely picked up their signals and crunched their metadata).  American high-tech surveillance is not, however, the only kind around.  There’s also the lower tech, up-close-and-personal kind that involves informers and sometimes government-instigated violence.

Just how much of this is going on and in how coordinated a way no one out here in the spied-upon world knows.  The lower-tech stuff gets reported, if at all, only one singular, isolated event at a time — look over here, look over there, now you see it, now you don’t.  What is known about such surveillance as well as the suborning of illegal acts by government agencies, including the FBI, in the name of counterterrorism has not been put together by major news organizations in a way that would give us an overview of the phenomenon.  (The ACLU has done by far the best job of compiling reports on spying on Americans of this sort.)

Some intriguing bits about informers and agents provocateurs briefly made it into the public spotlight when Occupy Wall Street was riding high.  But as always, dots need connecting.  Here is a preliminary attempt to sort out some patterns behind what could be the next big story about government surveillance and provocation in America.

Two Stories from Occupy Wall Street

The first is about surveillance. The second is about provocation.

On September 17, 2011, Plan A for the New York activists who came to be known as Occupy Wall Street was to march to the territory outside the bank headquarters of JPMorgan Chase.  Once there, they discovered that the block was entirely fenced in.  Many activists came to believe that the police had learned their initial destination from e-mail circulating beforehand.  Whereupon they headed for nearby Zuccotti Park and a movement was born.

The evening before May Day 2012, a rump Occupy group marched out of San Francisco’s Dolores Park and into the Mission District, a neighborhood where not so many 1-percenters live, work, or shop.  There, they proceeded to trash “mom and pop shops, local boutiques and businesses, and cars,” according toScott Rossi, a medic and eyewitness, who summed his feelings up this way afterward:  “We were hijacked.” The people “leading the march tonight,” he added, were

“clean cut, athletic, commanding, gravitas not borne of charisma but of testosterone and intimidation. They were decked out in outfits typically attributed to those in the ‘black bloc’ spectrum of tactics, yet their clothes were too new, and something was just off about them. They were very combative and nearly physically violent with the livestreamers on site, and got ignorant with me, a medic, when I intervened… I didn’t recognize any of these people. Their eyes were too angry, their mouths were too severe. They felt ‘military’ if that makes sense. Something just wasn’t right about them on too many levels.”

He was quick to add, “I’m not one of those tin foil hat conspiracy theorists.  I don’t subscribe to those theories that Queen Elizabeth’s Reptilian slave driver masters run the Fed. I’ve read up on agents provocateurs and plants and that sort of thing and I have to say that, without a doubt, I believe 100% that the people that started tonight’s events in the Mission were exactly that.”

Taken aback, Occupy San Francisco condemned the sideshow: “We consider these acts of vandalism and violence a brutal assault on our community and the 99%.”

Where does such vandalism and violence come from?  We don’t know.  There are actual activists who believe that they are doing good this way; and there are government infiltrators; and then there are double agents who don’t know whothey work for, ultimately, but like smashing things or blowing them up.  By definition, masked trashers of windows in Oakland or elsewhere are anonymous.  In anonymity, they — and the burners of flags and setters of bombs — magnify their power.  They hijack the media spotlight.  In this way, tiny groups — incendiary, sincere, fraudulent, whoever they are — seize leversthat can move the entire world.

The Sting of the Clueless Bee

Who casts the first stone?  Who smashes the first window?  Who teaches bombers to build and plant actual or spurious bombs?  The history of the secret police planting agents provocateurs in popular movements goes back at least to nineteenth century France and twentieth century Russia.  In 1905, for example, the priest who led St. Petersburg’s revolution was some sort of double agent, as was the man who organized the assassination of the Czar’s uncle, the Grand Duke.  As it happens, the United States has its own surprisingly full history of such planted agents at work turning small groups or movements in directions that, for better or far more often worse, they weren’t planning on going.  One well-documented case is that of “Tommy the Traveler,” a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organizer who after years of trying to arouse violent action convinced two 19-year-old students to firebomb an ROTC headquarters at Hobart College in upstate New York. The writer John Schultzreported on likely provocateurs in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention of 1968.  How much of this sort of thing went on?  Who knows?  Many relevant documents molder in unopened archives, or have been heavily redacted or destroyed.

As the Boston marathon bombing illustrates, there are homegrown terrorists capable of producing the weapons they need and killing Americans without the slightest help from the U.S. government.  But historically, it’s surprising how relatively often the gendarme is also a ringleader.  Just how often is hard to know, since information on the subject is fiendishly hard to pry loose from the secret world.

Through 2011, 508 defendants in the U.S. were prosecuted in what the Department of Justice calls “terrorism-related cases.” According to Mother Jones’s Trevor Aaronson, the FBI ran sting operations that “resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants” — about one-third of the total.  “Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur — an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.  With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Government, Law, Terrorism

Obesity-Cancer Link Detailed

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The gut microbiome is getting more and more attention now that we understand its importance. It turns out to be the reason that regular beef consumption causes heart disease (people who eat beef regularly end up with a different gut microbiome, one that produces from beef substances that cause heart disease—if you don’t have a beef-eater’s gut microbiome, then the occasional serving of beef is not a problem). And now for obese people it can cause cancer. Chris Palmer in The Scientist:

Obesity spurs changes in the gut microbiome that can lead to the production of DNA-damaging metabolites. And according to new research published today (June 26) in Nature, circulation of these metabolites through the gut and liver initiate inflammatory and tumor-promoting factors that make mice more susceptible to liver cancer.

“This is a fascinating set of findings,” said Peter Turnbaugh, a systems biologist at Harvard University, who did not participate in the research. “This study shows that changes to the trillions of microbes that are found in the gut in response to obesity can contribute to the formation of damaging microbial metabolites.”

Obesity has been on the rise in developed nations over the past few decades, with one third of adults in the United States considered obese. Though obesity has long been linked to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it is also increasingly being recognized as a leading risk factor in many forms of cancer. For example, one recent study found that obesity-associated inflammation contributes to hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in humans worldwide. However, the mechanism underlying the link between obesity and liver cancer has remained elusive.

To explore how obesity could cause cancer, researchers at several cancer centers in Japan turned to a mouse strain expressing a luminescent marker for a gene that induces a condition called the senescent-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Though senescence, the cessation of cell division that accompanies old age, has been shown to suppress tumor formation, recent evidence indicates that under certain conditions, senescent liver cells produce pro-inflammatory factors that promote tumor growth. Cells in this senescent but pro-inflammatory state are exhibiting SASP.

The researchers first looked for a difference in cancer development between obese mice fed a high-fat diet and lean mice fed a normal diet. Unable to observe a significant difference, the researchers suspected that obesity-linked cancer may require an oncogenic stimulus. Sure enough, when exposed to a chemical carcinogen, all of the obese mice developed liver cancer, whereas only 5 percent of the lean mice did. The obese mice also had higher levels of . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 11:42 am

Interesting revelation in IRS scandal: Darryl Issa revealed for what he is

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Darryl Issa, for those who do not know, is a dim-witted GOP hack with not an ounce of integrity. Steve Benen lays out at The Maddow Blog what his IRS scandal has turned out:

Over the years, the political world has seen plenty of scandals come and go, but I can’t think of the last time a controversy flamed out as quickly and thoroughly as the IRS story. When the issue first broke in early May, we immediate talk about a Nixonian crisis that could bring down the White House, with pundits and politicians eagerly comparing it to the worst political scandals in history.

And then, all of a sudden, reality intruded and the controversy evaporated.

For Republicans, the problem is every central claim has been discredited. They said conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status were singled out for excessive IRS scrutiny, but we now know that wasn’t true. They said conservative groups faced delays that liberal groups didn’t have to endure, but that wasn’t true, either. They said President Obama’s critics were unfairly targeted, and that’s ridiculously untrue.

Indeed, the irony of this week is that the previous allegations have not only been answered in a way that ends the discussion, but also that there are new allegations that turn the tables — those who pushed the scandal are suddenly the ones who need to explain themselves.

The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”

This is important. The IG’s report helped create the scandal, pointing to special scrutiny applied to Tea Party groups, but ignoring comparable scrutiny of progressive organizations that didn’t fully come to light until this week. Why didn’t the Inspector General provide a fairer, more accurate, and more encompassing report? Because according to the IG himself, Republicans told him to paint an incomplete picture on purpose.

The whole story, the IG’s office said yesterday, “was outside the scope” of the audit requested by Republican lawmakers.

And with that in mind, in an unexpected twist, the congressional Republicans who relied so heavily on the IG’s office to help create the controversy suddenly find themselves at odds with their ostensible ally.

House Republicans on Wednesday pushed back on an inspector general’s suggestion that the GOP asked for a limited inquiry into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups, a statement Democrats have jumped on in recent days.

GOP lawmakers and staffers acknowledge that they reached out to Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA) after hearing that Tea Party organizations seeking tax-exempt status felt they were being mistreated by the tax agency.

But Republicans also say that it made no sense for them to try to limit the inquiry to the Tea Party, because a broader inquiry would be needed to determine whether the IRS was treating conservative groups more harshly than other groups.

So the IG’s office is blaming Republicans and Republicans are blaming the IG’s office. Seven weeks after the political world pondered the prospect of president impeachment as a result of this story, it appears the only folks who aren’t accused of doing anything wrong are President Obama, his staff, and Democrats.

It’s funny how these things turn out, isn’t it?

Of course, the next question is who’s right about the party responsible for screwing up so badly: the Inspector General or congressional Republicans. At this point, it’s difficult to say with certainty, but it’s probably best not to reflexively blame GOP lawmakers.

Garance Franke-Ruta had a very interesting report on Tuesday on J. Russell George, the George W. Bush appointee who leads the IG’s office and who helped Republicans create the controversy with his misleading report. George now appears eager to pass the buck, but as Garance reported, the inspector general “might not be the impartial arbiter he successfully presented himself to be,” and may not have given accurate answers during his sworn testimony.

In May, George declined to answer questions about whether progressive groups were targeted, a kind cageyness that now raises questions about his impartiality in presenting findings about what went on at the IRS.

At the May 22 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing “The IRS: Targeting Americans for Their Beliefs,” Chairman Darrell Issa asked George point-blank about “be on the lookout” orders: “Were there any BOLOs issued for progressive groups, liberal groups?”

“Sir, this is a very important question,” the courtly George replied. “Please, I beg your indulgence …. The only ‘be on the lookout,’ that is BOLO, used to refer cases for political review were the ones that we described within our report.”

“There were other BOLOs used for other purposes,” he added — such as “indicators of known fraud schemes” and, for “nationwide organizations, there were notes to refer state and local chapters to the same reviewers.”

He did not mention the one now revealed for progressive groups.

Making matters worse, the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein also reported this week that Gregory D. Kutz, one of the main author’s of George’s IG report, “had been relieved of” his previous position as head of the special investigations unit at the Government Accountability Office when he wrote an incomplete report and was accused by a colleague of “pursuing overly sensationalist stories.”*

So, there may be a legitimate controversy here after all. It’s just not the one the political world was obsessed with since early May. The trajectory is eerily similar to Benghazi: Darrell Issa and Republicans make serious charges, the charges are debunked, and the only remaining questions deal with allegations of Republican wrongdoing.

As for the pundits and politicians who spent seven weeks breathlessly speculating about Obama using the IRS as a political weapon to punish his enemies, we’re still waiting for those corrections.

Looking ahead, the House Ways and Means Committee will have a hearing this afternoon on IRS developments, and it seems safe to expect Democrats to be on the offensive, demanding answers.

The GOP is primarily a party of bad faith.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 11:34 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Back to School for Labor

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Unions are the only tool that gives any power at all to workers: solidarity and being united help against the otherwise completely one-sided power relationship between an employee and the corporation for which s/he works. But unions have been systematically attacked and undermined by corporations, which think it’s an enormously bad idea for workers to have power: if they do, it becomes much harder to exploit and mistreat them.

Jake Blumgart has a very good article at The American Prospect on a group of teachers trying to organize a union and on the tactics used against them: totally bad-faith tactics, as is typical.

Most people wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to attend a three-hour meeting after work hours. But on May 29, the board meeting of ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, a non-profit that runs four charters schools in Philadelphia, was packed with teachers, students, and other staff members. Holding signs that read “Let’s Work Together,” a group of 30 from the Olney Charter High School quietly sat through the last board meeting of the academic year, waiting to hear if ASPIRA would continue to resist their efforts to unionize.

The public-comment period didn’t begin until 9:00 p.m., with a strict two-minute limit for every speaker. Olney staffers got around the rule. Instead of rushing through their own remarks, each speaker read a few paragraphs from a co-authored statement. Olney employees emphasized their desire to work with the administration and asked ASPIRA to stop fighting their unionization drive. The speech’s final line: “We look forward to working with you.” Members of ASPIRA’s board sat, looked down at the table or shuffled papers, and avoided eye-contact with the teachers.

Asked when ASPIRA would negotiate, Board Chair Aracely Rosales mumbled: “At this point we are not entering discussions … we will have our discussions, maybe at the next board meeting.” Olney workers have heard that before: Rosales said roughly the same thingat the last meeting on March 27. Whenever union supporters call board members to discuss the effort to organize, they are told to come to the next board meeting, where they are then denied a place on the schedule and relegated to the public-comment portion.

That’s just one of numerous delaying tactics utilized by ASPIRA’s management since March, when a small group of Olney staff approached Principal Jose Lebron, told him they were forming a union, and asked for a neutrality agreement to ensure management would not interfere in the process. He refused to discuss the matter. “There will be scars from this,” he warned. “Are you ready to play hard ball?” (Phone calls to the Olney Charter High School, ASPIRA’s Philadelphia headquarters, and Rosales’s offices were not returned.) These threats resonate with a staff that, as is the case at most charter schools, are kept on 10-month contracts that require the administration to ask them back every year.

In many ways, the organizing effort among ASPIRA employees and the resistance of the company resemble any other union battle in a country with weak labor protections. But it is relatively new for the teaching profession—one of the last major bastions of union power in the United States. In most states across the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, public-school teachers have long been unionized. But over the last 15 years, troubled inner-city school districts have seen an explosive growth of privately-operated, publicly funded charter schools, which have drained away union memberships. A few states, like Maryland, cover such employees under larger district collective-bargaining agreements. But charter proponents fiercely oppose such policies, arguing that these sweeping contracts are antithetical to the very concept of charter schools. According to conservative education policy expert Chester Finn: “The single most important form of freedom for charter schools is to hire and fire employees as they like and pay them as they see fit.”

But for workers, this flexibility often means instability and uncertainty. Most charter schools only employ their teachers and other staff at-will contracts that must be renewed at the end of every school year. Without a union, teachers can legally be fired for any reason and have no assurances that their grievances will be heard. Halley Potter and Richard D. Kahlenberg, two scholars at the Century Foundation who are writing a book about teacher voice in charter schools, have found that even in non-union charters that pride themselves on teacher input, teachers do not feel there is enough transparency around pay increases, promotions, and other administrative decisions. This results in high turnover rates; teachers feel burnt out and quit, which in turn keeps wages and benefits low. Because of this, charter teachers tend to be much younger and less experienced than their public school counterparts, according to a 2012 National Conference of State Legislatures report.

Proponents of charter schools say this is just part of the tradeoff. “In this day and age no person stays in a job for more than a few years,” says Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), which has no official position on unionization but opposes laws that would include charter schools in large public-school collective-bargaining agreements. “In the private sector these things happen. Now, in teaching it would be great if we could keep teachers in the system for much longer, but the way to do that is by offering differentiated pay and a career ladder [not broad unionization laws].”

Pennsylvania has no law including teachers and staff at charter schools in public-school bargaining units. Of Philadelphia’s 84 charter schools, only a fourth are controlled by organizations that manage more than one location and none of these management organizations have expressed interest in unionizing. This means that the American Federation of Teachers, which began to organize Philly charters in 2007, must wage separate campaigns at each school. Of the four charter schools ASPIRA runs in the city, only Olney is attempting to unionize. 

Like many charter-school operators, ASPIRA espouses a progressive agenda, describing itself as a “community-based organization whose mission is to empower Puerto Ricans and other Latinos through advocacy and the education and leadership development of its youth.” The organization sprung from an effort by Puerto Rican activists in New York City during the 1960s who wanted to improve social and educational services for their community. Initially, ASPIRA supported groups within schools to strengthen student influence and support educational development, but today has grown to encompass a range of programs—from summer camps to charter schools. Some teachers think that union representation would fit neatly into ASPIRA’s wider culture and goals.

“I came to ASPIRA because of the social-justice aspect,” says Sarah Apt, a second-year teacher who teaches English as a second language (ESL). “I wanted to be at a school where ESL was valued, where my students were valued. The union is a tool for that. What we need to make that happen in our school is to have the voice and leverage to do it.”

Teachers and staff at Olney have expressed frustration with the administration’s opaque decision-making process and failure to communicate. They provided one anecdote after another. During the school’s first year, a “House” system was in place that allowed students to share many of the same teachers, who could then work together to address academic and behavioral issues. Students also got to know their cohort of teachers better. The program seemed to work especially well for incoming freshman. But the administration eliminated the system during the second year, without consulting or warning the teachers. Without notice, the library was dismantled before the start of the school’s second year. The librarian returned from summer break to find the carpeting torn up and the books dispersed throughout the school. Administrators approved a proposal for a Spanish literacy class for English language learners, but it never appeared on the roster.

“I think we know about the classroom more than [administrators and board members] do and they know about other things more than we do,” says Ellie Fingerman, a 12th grade social studies teacher who has taught at Olney for four years. “We want to have an equal voice alongside the administration and the school board. When we win there will be no limit to how strong our school can be.”

Three weeks after the campaign at Olney went public, a group of more than twenty staff members went to Lebron’s office to deliver a petition for union recognition signed by 65 percent of staff. He not only refused to accept it, but chased them down the hallway to give it back. In some states, like neighboring New York, demonstrating majority support among the staff would be enough to win union recognition. But in Pennsylvania, a school board can challenge the result of a union vote and require another election overseen by the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The process can last months—even longer if an employer decides to draw it out by, for instance, disputing which types of employees can be included in the bargaining unit. The longer the election process, studies have shown, the more likely management will resort to tactics like unlawful firings to repress the union.

This is precisely what has happened with Olney. Throughout the past year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Education, Unions

Lacto-ovo vegetarian coming up

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Thanks to commenter Joanne, I did some more reading about obtaining all 9 essential amino acids from plant sources, and it seems that if your diet is variegated, there’s no problem and no need to take extra pains—and this is particularly true for lacto-ovo vegetarians, since eggs and milk products do indeed provide all 9 essential amino acids.

Plus you don’t need much protein. I once read this illustration: Car parts are durable, but you occasionally have to replace a part. Oil is needed all the time, but in small quantities. What you need a lot of is gasoline, which provides the energy.

In terms of the body, you don’t need much protein, which is needed for parts replacement. (I need only 2.5 oz/day, for example—plus too much protein is hard on the kidneys.) You do need small amounts of oil/fat in the diet regularly. But what you need mostly is carbohydrates, the primary energy source. Clearly it’s better to get these in as unrefined a form as possible: from plants rather than from flour and sugar.

At any rate, we’re going to drop meat from the diet for a while. We’ll continue with eggs (I eat one a day for breakfast) and dairy (milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt plus a little butter, though our primary source of oil in the diet is olive oil). But the bulk of the diet will now be plants.

I’ve been sort of moving in this direction, and it seems well worth trying. So future GOPMs will be all plants, with no animal.

I’ll probably continue to pay at least some attention to complementary proteins, but that is just me.

Example using what I’ll make for lunch:

Using my 10″ sauté pan:

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 chopped spring shallots, including all the green part

Sauté until shallots are wilted and soft

3 cloves garlic minced
approx 1/2 c celery
1 carrot
1/2 c. cooked pearled barley
2 Tbsp peanuts
some broccoli rabe, chopped
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

Sauté that for a while, then add 1/4 cup liquid (probably a combination of soy sauce or ponzu sauce, sherry, pepper sauce, and about 2 Tbsp vinegar), cover, and cook over med-low heat for 15-20 minutes.

I was thinking about beating a couple of eggs and stirring those in at the end, but it may not need it.

I have a new celery tactic: I keep it in the bunch and slice the ends off the bunch for chopped celery: as much as I need; then the rest of the bunch goes back into the bag and into the refrigerator. Formerly I would chop up the entire bunch when I got it, dry the chopped celery, and store it chopped and ready to use, but now I find it just as fast and easy to chop what I need off the end of the bunch.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Smooth result, lather struggles

with 2 comments

SOTD 27 June 2013

I’m struggling to get a lather I like from the Stirling soap. It’s possibly my technique: I can get the lather now to last the shave, but I can’t get the tiny-bubbled, creamy lather that I like. The bubbles are larger and the lather looser. After finishing the shave this morning, I used a tub of D.R. Harris Arlington to make a lather—D.R. Harris makes excellent lather for me and is a reference standard that I use—and that lather was fine: thick and creamy. So I’ll try a little more, and I’m sending a puck of the soap out for testing as a well.

I did like the fragrance of this morning’s soap: quite pleasant. And it’s always a pleasure to use Wee Scot. When I started the first pass, the blade didn’t seem quite sharp enough, so I loaded a new Personna Lab blade and easily achieved a BBS result, thanks in part to the powers of the bakelite slant.

A good splash of Irisch Moos, and the weekend starts to loom ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2013 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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