Later On

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

Archive for August 5th, 2013

Has US law enforcement gone insane?

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Yet another story of overreach, this time against a baby deer—a fawn killed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the crime of being a fawn and being alive. They sure fixed that. Story and video of news report here.

Why are enforcement agencies so aggressive and uncontrolled now? Has the War on Drugs and War on Terror and War on Poverty and so on simply be combined into a War on Citizens and Life in General?

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

The Koch Brothers bring you…. Global Warming!!

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Let’s hear it for the Koch Brothers! (And their ilk and minions.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 5:20 pm

The economy and the shredding of the safety net increases US suicide rate

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Thom Hartmann at AlterNet:

Virginia’s suicide rate is now the highest [3] it’s been in the last 13 years; Virginians are now three times more likely to die from suicide than they are from homicide.

And Virginia is not alone.

Over the past decade, our nation’s suicide rate has been steadily climbing, rising a staggering 23 percent.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 700,000 emergency room visits in 2010 alone for self-inflicted injuries.

The fact is, America’s suicide rate is on the rise, and Conservative economic policies are to blame.

In a study released in May [4], Professors David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu of Oxford University in England found that suicide rates in both the U.S. and U.K. increase when working class wages and wealth decline.

The study calculates, for example, that there were 4,750 “excess” suicides during the recession period in the U.S., compared with suicide rates before the recession.

Stuckler and Basu conclude their report by saying that, “what we’ve learned is that the real danger to public health is not recession per se, but austerity.”

That’s right. The very same austerity policies that Republicans in Washington are constantly pushing on us are the same policies that are driving Americans to kill themselves.

And these findings are nothing new. Australian research shows that suicides increase under Conservative governments [5].

Australian scientists found that suicides in that country increased markedly when a Conservative government was in power. And, they found similar results for the U.K.

The team of Australian scientists analyzed suicide statistics for the New South Wales area of Australia between 1901, when the Australian federal government was established, and 1998.

They then looked at which political parties had control in both state and federal governments in New South Wales, which have consistently been under either Labour (like the Democratic Party in the U.S.) or Conservative control.

And surprise, the scientists found that the highest rates of suicide occurred when Conservative state and federal governments were in power.

And then here’s another smoking gun: When Conservative-backed austerity policies began to ravage Greece in 2010, the suicide rate shot up by 18 percent [6].

In Athens alone, the suicide rate soared 25 percent. Before austerity came to Greece, that nation had the lowest suicide rate in the entire European Union.

In other European nations hit with austerity, the results are the same. In Italy, for example, the suicide rate has also increased thanks to devastating austerity policies.

So, if Conservative-backed austerity policies are driving suicides here in the U.S. and around the world, and we’ve known this for over a decade, what can be done to reverse this trend?

Going back to the study by Stuckler and Basu, they found that to stop the epidemic of austerity-driven suicides, we must invest more in our economy and country, not less.

They show that, during the Great Depression, each $100 per capita of “relief” spending from FDR’s New Deal ($1800 in today’s dollars) led to a decline in pneumonia deaths of 18 per 100,000 people; a reduction in infant deaths of 18 per 1,000 live births; and a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people.

Stuckler also highlights the case of Iceland. In 2008, Iceland experienced arguably the largest banking crisis in history, relative to the size of a nation’s economy.  Three of its major banks failed, its debt soared, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, and the nation’s currency completely collapsed.

Despite all of this, rather than take the Conservative approach that we took here in America, bailing out the banks and slashing funding to crucial government programs, Iceland decided to say no to austerity, and rejected major cuts to its social safety net programs.

As a result, there was no significant increase in suicides during Iceland’s economic collapse.

You’d think that the clear correlation between austerity and suicide rates in Europe would wake Republicans up, and encourage them to stop inflicting the same despicable and devastating policies on Americans.  In their continuing service to the billionaire class, Republicans continue to slash away at social safety net programs, and continue pushing the Reaganomics policies that have devastated America’s working class.

Remember, when Republicans talk about how bad the economy is, they’re bragging.

Conservative economic policies, from austerity to sequester to Reaganomics, kill people.

Now that the science is in, and irrefutable, it’s time to wake Americans up to this deadly con game.

The problem is that the GOP is not driven by data or evidence, but by ideology.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP

8 Ways Privatization Has Failed America

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Paul Bucheit writes at Common Dreams:

Some of America’s leading news analysts are beginning to recognize the fallacy of the “free market.” Said Ted Koppel, “We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another.”Fareed Zakaria admitted, “I am a big fan of the free market…But precisely because it is so powerful, in places where it doesn’t work well, it can cause huge distortions.” They’re right. A little analysis reveals that privatization doesn’t seem to work in any of the areas vital to the American public.

Health Care

Our private health care system is by far the most expensive system in the developed world. Forty-two percent of sick Americans skipped doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs. The price of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany. Some of thedocumented tales: a $15,000 charge for lab tests for which a Medicare patient would have paid a few hundred dollars; an $8,000 special stress test for which Medicare would have paid $554; and a $60,000 gall bladder operation, which was covered for $2,000 under a private policy.

As the examples begin to make clear, Medicare is more cost-effective. According to theCouncil for Affordable Health Insurance, Medicare administrative costs are about one-third that of private health insurance. More importantly, our ageing population has been staying healthy. While as a nation we have a shorter life expectancy than almost all other developedcountries, Americans covered by Medicare INCREASED their life expectancy by 3.5 years from the 1960s to the turn of the century.

Free-market health care has been taking care of the CEOs. Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, made $1,845,000 in 2012. That’s over ten times as much as the $170,000 made by the federal Medicare Administrator in 2010. Stephen J. Hemsley, the CEO of United Health Group, made three hundred times as much, with most of his $48 million coming from stock gains.


A Citigroup economist gushed, “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. A more recent study confirms that privatization will generally “increase the long-term costs borne by the public.” Privatization is “shortsighted, irresponsible and costly.”

Numerous examples of water privatization abuses or failures have been documented in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island — just about anywhere it’s been tried. Meanwhile, corporations have been making outrageous profits on a commodity that should be almost free. Nestle buys water for about 1/100 of a penny per gallon, and sells it back for ten dollars. Their bottled water is not much different from tap water.

Worse yet, corporations profit from the very water they pollute. Dioxin-dumping Dow Chemicals is investing in water purification. Monsanto has been accused of privatizing its own pollution sites in order to sell filtered water back to the public.

Internet, TV, and Phone . . .

Continue reading.

The whole idea of privatization, near as I can tell, is to funnel taxpayer money to private companies who can make a profit from doing the same thing a government department does without the loss of funds to private profit.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 3:14 pm

This is, hands down, the scariest part of the NSA revelations

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Shane Harris writes at Foreign Policy:

Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency’s system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.

According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country’s largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts’ desktop computers.

The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America’s tech giants.

Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages — what PRISM helps gather — is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata “on an ongoing, daily basis.” Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it’s also “remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise,” according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. “It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed.” . . .

Continue reading. Late in the article:

. . . Here’s why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:

1.  Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what’s being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four “spatio-temporal points,” such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.

2.  The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it’s unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone’s identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.

3. . .

The full list has 5 points.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 2:58 pm

Georgia Court Barred Families from Courtroom Unless Loved Ones Pled Guilty

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What has happened to American law? Has it always been this bad? Dan McCue of Courthouse News reports, via AlterNet:

A Georgia judge, bailiffs and two county sheriffs must face claims that they bar the families of criminal defendants from court unless their loved ones plead guilty, a federal judge ruled.

In June 2012, Beverly Fuqua led three named individuals in a lawsuit  [3]that claimed they had been unlawfully denied access to Ben Hill and Crisp County Superior Courts. The federal complaint named as defendants Cordele Judicial Circuit’s Chief Superior Court Judge John Pridgen; two other judges in the circuit; Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore; and Crisp County Sheriff Donnie Haralson.

“Crisp County deputy told one family member she could not watch arraignments unless her loved one entered a guilty plea; if he pleaded not guilty, she would not be able to enter,” the complaint stated. “The general public – citizens with no relative involved in court proceedings such as Reverend Davis who seeks to minister and comfort members of his congregation – are generally completely barred from attending and observing the proceedings.”

The complaint accused the court officers and sheriffs of violating the constitutional rights of “plaintiffs and other similarly situated individuals who attempt to watch Superior Court guilty plea proceedings, sentencings, arraignments, calendar calls, bond hearings, and other criminal proceedings in the Ben Hill and Crisp County jail courtrooms are routinely met by sheriff’s deputies who close public hearings for a host of reasons – none of which are legally sufficient.”

Since the lawsuit was filed, a total of 18 individuals have submitted affidavits, complaining of the same treatment.

They seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent future courtroom closures, nominal damages and payment of their litigation expenses.

In February 2013, U.S. District Judge Louis Sands rejected the defendant judges’ motion to dismiss the case on the grounds the plaintiffs failed to adequately state a First Amendment case and were therefore not entitled to declaratory relief.

Shortly afterward, the judges issued a standing order that bailiffs and sheriffs’ deputies allow access to the courts “to the extent possible to remain in compliance with occupancy and safety requirements.” The judges then moved to dismiss for mootness, arguing that because the issued the standing order a “live controversy” no longer existed.

During the same February 2013 hearing in Albany, Ga., Judge Sands also rejected defendant Haralson’s motion to dismiss for qualified and sovereign immunity. Haralson then went back to the court with a second motion for dismissal, arguing the plaintiffs lack standing because only judges can decided where and how criminal proceedings are conducted, and he has no power to provide the relief requested.

Six Ben Hill County bailiffs were later added to the action and moved to dismiss the claims for lack of standing and absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Like Haralson, they argued they cannot provide the requested relief. In addition, they said they merely serve as conduits for a valid judicial order.

The bailiffs also moved to dismiss any existing Sixth or 14th Amendment claims.

Judge Sands dismissed most of the motions Tuesday, granting dismissal only of the Sixth and 14th Amendments claims against the defendants.

“Defendant Bailiffs and defendant Haralson claim plaintiffs lack standing to pursue injunctive or declaratory relief because these defendants allegedly have no control over the courtroom proceedings,” Sands wrote. “Defendant Judges and Defendant Haralson argue this case is moot because they have ceased the challenged practice. After a consideration of both arguments, the court concludes that this case is justiciable as to all parties and claims.”

While an “act may be unconstitutional in the abstract” … “it does not generally cause injury until there is a possibility of enforcement,” the judge added. “Enjoining an executive officer from carrying out an unconstitutional command prevents that command from causing injury.”

Noting the defendants offered no legal basis supporting their argument, Sands cited a more practical problem: “The record does not support their role as passive enforcers.”

“Defendants point to the judges’ affidavits and standing order to establish they obediently minister the judges’ instructions,” Sands wrote. “This is odd, because, in those very documents, defendant judges imply, perhaps accidentally or unintentionally, that any violation is on the part of the bailiffs and deputy sheriffs. Further, the judges claim they have always directed the bailiffs and deputy sheriffs to allow the public in the proceedings as space permits. … But someone, according to the allegations of about a dozen affiants, has denied the public full access to the proceedings at the LECs despite abundant seating. In every case, the person in the first instance to deny entry is a bailiff or deputy sheriff.

“In summary, the record and law amply support the court’s finding that plaintiffs have standing to seek an injunction against the bailiffs and sheriff,” he said.

Sands rejected the argument for mootness based on the issuance of the standing order, saying that courts typically dismiss such motions. “Otherwise, a defendant could engage in unlawful conduct, stop when sued to have the case declared moot, then pick up where he left off, repeating this cycle until he achieves all his unlawful ends,” he wrote.

The defendants also “offered no explanation as to why “the standing order arrived just before a hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction,” according to the ruling. Sands said this “suggests defendants have not unambiguously terminated the challenged practice.”

He also flatly rejected the bailiffs’ claim they are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for executing a judge’s facially valid order.

They are not entitled to such a finding “at this immature stage of litigation,” according to the ruling.

Citing the grounds he gave in February, Sands also denied a renewed bid by Haralson for qualified immunity and sovereign immunity to preserve those issues for appeal.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Law

Wow! Jeff Bezos (not Amazon, but Bezos as an individual) buys the Washington Post

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I am amazed. Here’s the report by Paul Farhi in the Washington Post:

The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.

Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to the Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.

Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter.

The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.

For much of the past decade, however, the paper has been unable to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed newspapers and other “legacy” media organizations. The rise of the Internet and the epochal change from print to digital technology have created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties.

“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about” selling The Post, said Donald Graham, the Post Co.’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.” . . .

Continue reading.

I’m hoping Bezos will clear out deadwood and dedicated Villagers and get some good investigative reporters who are more interested in digging up stories than in going to parties and hobnobbing with the wealthy and powerful. I have a whole list of names to go: Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Roger Cohen, Jennifer Rubin, Robert Samuelson—all the fact-challenged columnists who simply make things up and never look at evidence. And Fred Hiatt should clear out his desk and leave immediately. Wouldn’t it be nice to replace Samuelson with Dean Baker, for example?

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Media, Washington Post

Do NOT go to Texas!

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Incredible state. Leslie Salzillo reports something that would be unbelievable without the video to back it up:

What amazes me about this story, is not only is this an illegal, sexually-violating police search, but it happened on a public road, for anyone driving by to see. These two women were pulled over, for allegedly throwing a cigarette out of the car window. They were given full body  internal searches.

Gloves were not changed between anal and vaginal probes, nor were they changed between women.

Under Texas law, this is considered  sexual assaults/rape.

Texas Penal Code Sec. 22.011. SEXUAL ASSAULT. (a) A person commits an offense if the person: (1) intentionally or knowingly: (A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent;

And after all of that – no ticket was issued. The incident happened last December and the women are now filing suit.

This is not the first time a search like this has taken place, reported, or become news. Video #2 is the video of another incident where two women are searched and internally probed on the side of the road. One woman yells in pain as the female trooper shoved  her hand inside the woman. In this ‘search’ the troopers did not bother to check the women’s socks/shoes.

And the second:

In both videos, you will hear two of the women ‘half-laughing/giggling’ a bit during the probes. I think most of us realize these women do not find this funny – and those are natural nervous reactions to the humiliation and shock they were experiencing. I admire them for coming forward with their stories.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around what is happening in Texas, and specifically to women.This is not to say such things do not happen around the country, they do. But Texas is being especially exposed, and with more women coming forward to report violations, there is a chance for change. I am grateful to people courageous enough to stand up to the law when wronged, as well as to social media for circulating these videos causing some to go viral. Public outrage and protests help to create new laws.

For Full Story:  Daily News

What in the world is going on in Texas? (And the Daily News story is worth reading for more details.)

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The problem with selling ambassadorships: U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Denies Accusations He Had Sex With Minors

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John Hudson reports in Foreign Policy:

In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.

“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said. “At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”

Gutman came under the spotlight on Monday after CBS obtained an internal memo from the department’s inspector general detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by staff or contractors ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an “underground drug ring.” The report also alleged that the agency tried to cover up instances of misconduct, something State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called “preposterous.”

According to one veteran Brussels reporter speaking to The Cable, Gutman “is something of a legend here.”  He’s known as “the American guy who goes to shitty little Belgian towns even Belgians haven’t heard of,” in an effort to strengthen ties with the locals. “He’s pretty much always on Belgian TV apparently.”

Speaking of the two allegations — solicitation of prostitutes and minors — the source said: “The first charge is unsurprising in ‘like, whatever’ Belgium. But the second is shocking and out-of-character if proved.” He said the ambassador is known for his “sharp and wicked humor.” . . .

Continue reading. That report is from mid-June. And here’s more: Howard Gutman: Prostitution Wasn’t Even The Worst Thing The State Department Covered Up.

This event shows the importance of whistleblowers: without them, misbehavior is too easily concealed, as this was. (And the second link provides more detail.) We need laws to protect whistleblowers. Obama certainly will not do it—quite the contrary.

Gutman was replaced within 2 weeks of the report’s leaking.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 12:30 pm

Snowden and the NSA: Breach or Debate

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Bruce Ackerman writes in Foreign Policy:

The massive NSA surveillance program revealed in June by Edward Snowden may have narrowly survived an up-or-down vote in the House of Representatives last week, but the battle is far from over. As the House Judiciary Committee mulls a second bill limiting NSA telephone intrusions, it’s worth revisiting the ground rules governing the ongoing debate. In particular, should members of Congress use their special constitutional powers of free speech to force the facts about the government’s secret activities out into the open?

Up until now, Congress has allowed Barack Obama’s administration to say one thing in secret sessions and something very different in public. The most notorious instance involved Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who brazenly denied in a March hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the National Security Agency was collecting data on millions of Americans. Clapper has since apologized to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for lying to his face.

Clapper’s confession spurred calls for his resignation. But now that the White House has stood firmly behind the director of national intelligence, the ball is in Congress’s court. Clapper, moreover, doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson. On Tuesday, Wyden reported that Clapper’s response to a more recent inquiry by 26 senators was inadequate. In his view, Clapper minimized the extent to which intelligence agencies have been violating court orders. Wyden claims that these infractions “are significantly more troubling than the government has stated.”

Wyden knows what he is talking about. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, he has been briefed on the ins and outs of domestic snooping operations at secret sessions. Given Clapper’s continuing evasions, Wyden should no longer content himself with telling us that the administration is misrepresenting the facts. He should instead let Americans know the truth, even at the cost of revealing some classified information presented to him in secret sessions.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees that elected representatives “shall not be questioned in any other Place … for any Speech or Debate in either House.” In other words, they cannot be prosecuted for reading classified material into the public record — and it is up to them, and them alone, to decide what is worth talking about.

This principle has deep roots. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 12:03 pm

Is U.S. Exaggerating Threat to Embassies to Silence Critics of NSA Domestic Surveillance?

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UPDATE: I was reminded in a comment thread at Foreign Policy that in the Bush Administration, whenever the polls would slip, a red alert would be promulgated as regularly as night follows day. And Tom Ridge writes in his memoir that when he was head of the Dept of Homeland Security, he was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush’s re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over. So we’ve seen this little plot gimmick before—and I think we’re seeing it again.

The thought certainly occurred to me. After years of little activity, suddenly, just as the NSA and Obama Administration start getting serious criticism about overreach, this “crisis” suddenly appears—a global attack on US embassies, which are all shut down. And, thankfully, the attacks are averted, thanks to the NSA Total Surveillance Programs!

Yeah. I recall the guy throwing shredded newspapers out the bus window. “Why?”  “To prevent tiger attacks.”  “We’re not being attacked by tigers.”  “See? It works!”

The NSA goes into highly public overdrive, attacks don’t happen, and that proves the NSA should be allowed to do whatever they want—to continue, as it were, throwing shredded money out the window, spending billions and collecting data on all American citizens. I’m not buying it. A risk-free world is not possible, as the Boston bombing shows, and the US really cannot afford, in terms of money and liberty, what Obama and the NSA want to do.

Democracy Now! interviews Greenwald on this threat:

The transcript:

The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic posts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to fears of a possible militant threat. On Sunday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close the embassies was based on information collected by the National Security Agency. “If we did not have these programs, we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys,” Chambliss said, in a direct reference to increasing debate over widespread spying of all Americans revealed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. “Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks,” Greenwald says. Pointing to the recent revelations by leaker Edward Snowden that he has reported on, Greenwald explains, “Here we are in the midst of one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly, an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates around the world. … The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.” Greenwald also discusses the NSA’s XKeyscore Internet tracking program, Reuters’ report on the Drug Enforcement Agency spying on Americans, and the conviction of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. I want to go back to Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to get Glenn Greenwald’s response. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Meet the Press, he said the NSA surveillance programs had uncovered information about the threats that prompted the U.S. to close 19 embassies in North Africa and Middle East.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: These programs are controversial. We understand that. They’re very sensitive. But they’re also very important, because they are what lead us to have the—or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys. And I will say that it’s the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter. That’s the program that allows us to listen overseas, not on domestic soil, but overseas.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Chambliss. Glenn Greenwald, your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: You know, it’s so ludicrous. For eight straight years, literally, Democrats, every time there was a terrorist alert or a terrorist advisory issued by the United States government in the middle of a debate over one of the Bush-Cheney civil liberties abuses, would accuse the United States government and the national security state of exaggerating terrorism threats, of manipulating advisories, of hyping the dangers of al-Qaeda, in order to distract attention away from their abuses and to scare the population into submitting to whatever it is they wanted to do. And so, here we are in the midst of, you know, one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world. And within literally an amount of hours, the likes of Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham join with the White House and Democrats in Congress—who, remember, are the leading defenders of the NSA at this point—to exploit that terrorist threat and to insist that it shows that the NSA and these programs are necessary.

What that has to do with the ongoing controversy about the NSA is completely mystifying. Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks. The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. And, if anything, the only thing that that controversy—the warning has to do with the current controversy is that the argument that a lot of analysts have made, very persuasively, is that when you have an agency that collects everything, it actually becomes harder, not easier, to detect actual terrorist plots and to find the actual terrorists. And if this agency really were devoted, if these surveillance programs were really devoted to finding terrorism, they would be much more directed and discriminating. But they’re not. They’re indiscriminate and limitless, and that’s one of the problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, you appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. After speaking with you, the host, Martha Raddatz, asked House Intelligence Committee member Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger to respond to your claim that members of Congress have had difficulty getting details of NSA programs. Let’s go to his response.

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER: Since this incident occurred with Snowden, we’ve had three different hearings for members of our Democratic caucus and of the Republican caucus, where General Alexander has come with his deputy, Chris Inglis, to ask any questions that people have as it relates to this information. And we will continue to do that, because what we’re trying to do now is to get the American public to know more about what’s going on, that NSA is following the law, and that we have checks and balances. We have the courts. We have both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee. We have Justice Department. We have checks and balances here to make sure that NSA does not violate the law in what they’re doing. And, you know, since these two programs have come into effect, especially the metadata, there has not been one incident of any member of the NSA breaking any law whatsoever. But we can do better. I have to educate my caucus more, the Democratic caucus. And we’re trying to declassify as much as we can.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democratic Congressmember Dutch Ruppersberger. Glenn Greenwald, your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: I hope Dutch Ruppersberger takes a much more prominent role in the political debate, because he’s basically the embodiment of the rotted soul that has become the Democratic Party. Not only does his district encompass Fort Meade, which is the headquarters of the NSA, which explains in part why he is this stalwart, steadfast NSA loyalist, but he is almost drowning in cash from the defense and intelligence industries. He’s the second leading recipient in the entire United States House of Representatives of money from those industries. And he then gets placed on the very committee that the Church Committee created in the mid-1970s to exercise oversight over the agency and the community that basically ensures that his coffers are stuffed full of cash. So of course he becomes the leading spokesperson for that agency and then goes around defending it and saying they’ve done nothing wrong and they’re vital and indispensable to our national security. That’s the leading Democrat on that committee.

But the thing that he was asked about, in terms of members of Congress being blocked from information, basic information, isn’t my claim. Members of Congress came to me with his grievance and asked me to write about it. And they gave me correspondence between themselves and the Intelligence Committee. And what they were asking for was not very sensitive information; they were asking for the most basic things, things they read about in media accounts, such as the ruling by the FISA court in 2011 that much of what the NSA has been doing, spying on Americans domestically, is a violation of the Constitution and the law. There really is, Amy, an 85-page, 86-page ruling issued by the FISA court that says the government has been systematically breaking the law and violating the Fourth Amendment in how it spies on us. And not only can we not see that ruling, because it remains a secret at the insistence of the Obama administration, even our elected representatives in Congress, who we’re told are exercising robust oversight, are blocked from seeing it. And that’s the correspondence that we published that was given to me by various House members. So, yeah, they do get meetings with General Alexander where they get to raise their hand and ask questions, and General Alexander says, “We’re violating—we’re not violating the law, and we are strictly adhering to what our guidelines are.” He can say whatever he wants. They want to get the actual documents. That’s how you exercise oversight. And they’re being denied it, about the most basic information about both the NSA and the FISA court.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something, the former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, who was the one who got the Pentagon Papers put into the congressional record, then had them published by Beacon Press, the whole thousands of pages, he said that the senators who have been really sounding the alarms, people like Senator Udall, Senator Wyden, of course, the ones who have been warning Americans in sort of cryptic ways, saying, “You’ve got to find out about this,” could actually go much further now that so much has been released by you and even the Obama administration. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 11:30 am

Republicans Against Reality

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Paul Krugman today touches on a key point about the GOP today, and what I believe is the major reason that the GOP so much wants to stop the teaching of critical thinking skills in our schools (indeed, that specific goal is a plank in the Texas GOP platform): the GOP maintains many positions and ideas that are contradicted by reality. I’ll give one example from Eric Cantor, Majority Leader in the House:

“First of all, government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector does,” Cantor said on “Fox News Sunday.”

This means that we can drastically reduce defense spending, close public schools, fire stations, police stations, public universities and community colleges with no loss of jobs. Think about it: he doesn’t believe that our public school teachers, our firefighters and police officers, the professors and staff and administrators in higher education have jobs. None of them. What they have cannot be jobs, because those are created by the government.

How do you even argue with someone who simply doesn’t grasp the reality of the world around him. All those much-honored soldiers and officers: they do not have jobs to do. They don’t have jobs at all.

Krugman writes:

Last week House Republicans voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. Like the previous 39 votes, this action will have no effect whatsoever. But it was a stand-in for what Republicans really want to do: repeal reality, and the laws of arithmetic in particular. The sad truth is that the modern G.O.P. is lost in fantasy, unable to participate in actual governing.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about policy substance. I may believe that Republicans have their priorities all wrong, but that’s not the issue here. Instead, I’m talking about their apparent inability to accept very basic reality constraints, like the fact that you can’t cut overall spending without cutting spending on particular programs, or the fact that voting to repeal legislation doesn’t change the law when the other party controls the Senate and the White House.

Am I exaggerating? Consider what went down in Congress last week.

First, House leaders had to cancel planned voting on a transportation bill, because not enough representatives were willing to vote for the bill’s steep spending cuts. Now, just a few months ago House Republicans approved an extreme austerity budget, mandating severe overall cuts in federal spending — and each specific bill will have to involve large cuts in order to meet that target. But it turned out that a significant number of representatives, while willing to vote for huge spending cuts as long as there weren’t any specifics, balked at the details. Don’t cut you, don’t cut me, cut that fellow behind the tree.

Then House leaders announced plans to hold a vote cutting spending on food stamps in half — a demand that is likely to sink the already struggling effort to agree with the Senate on a farm bill.

Then they held the pointless vote on Obamacare, apparently just to make themselves feel better. (It’s curious how comforting they find the idea of denying health care to millions of Americans.) And then they went home for recess, even though the end of the fiscal year is looming and hardly any of the legislation needed to run the federal government has passed.

In other words, Republicans, confronted with the responsibilities of governing, essentially threw a tantrum, then ran off to sulk.

How did the G.O.P. get to this point? On budget issues, the proximate source of the party’s troubles lies in the decision to turn the formulation of fiscal policy over to a con man. Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has always been a magic-asterisk kind of guy — someone who makes big claims about having a plan to slash deficits but refuses to spell out any of the all-important details. Back in 2011 the Congressional Budget Office, in evaluating one of Mr. Ryan’s plans, came close to open sarcasm; it described the extreme spending cuts Mr. Ryan was assuming, then remarked, tersely, “No proposals were specified that would generate that path.”

What’s happening now is that the G.O.P. is trying to convert Mr. Ryan’s big talk into actual legislation — and is finding, unsurprisingly, that it can’t be done. Yet Republicans aren’t willing to face up to that reality. Instead, they’re just running away. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Super shave and blade finding

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SOTD 5 Aug 2013

This will be boar-brush week. I got four new Omegas, and I’m using them. I had read that those with the dyed band break in faster, so I’m trying a few. I like the look and feel of the one above, but I can tell it needs more breaking in—still, it’s but the first use. I did have to return to the puck—Petal Pusher Fancies Sandalwood—for another hit of soap midway through the shave. Still, I can’t really judge the brush for a while: you’ll just have to go through the break-in period with me.

I like Petal Pusher Fancies soap, but the Sandalwood fragrance is quite muted. Still, a good lather, and the iKon Slant again felt extremely comfortable. The blade findings: Personna Lab Blues tend to turn mean as they age, and become uncomfortable. A Kai blade was still not complete comfortable in this razor (though fine in an Edwin Jagger) and I even scraped one side of my mouth some without realizing it. So today I used a new Astra Superior Platinum and found that, for me, the Astra really works well. The iKon Slant was once more extremely comfortable, and with three passes I had a BBS finish.

Stetson Classic is favorite that got pushed to the back of the shelf, out of sight and forgotten until someone on Wicked_Edge reminded me. So out it came today, and what a great aftershave it is (for me: YMMV).

The week is off to a good start.

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2013 at 9:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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