Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
News of US politics
The truth is that presidential campaigns usually at this stage in the process are tedious affairs, filled with stump speeches that rarely change, and most sane people can safely ignore the process until the primary season actually begins. Donald Trump running as a candidate of the Trump Party1 has upended all that. I don’t see any plausible path for a Trump electoral college victory, thanks be Kant, but I’ll admit Trump has made the 2016 election more interesting. In a gapers block sort of way, but still, more interesting than having to wade through double speak from John Ellis Bush Bush2 and Carly Fiorina and the rest of the clown car.
Trump could change the race by stamping his image upon the Republicans in a way they cannot escape. Trump has made himself the symbol of racism against Latinos in the United States. He is absolute brand poison. Democrats are already airing television ads connecting other Republican candidates to Trump.
Another, more potent way Trump could determine the outcome of the race is by running a third-party candidacy. An independent Trump is the perfectly designed Republican-killer. He appeals to a constituency (white nativists) that forms a crucial component of the Republican base, but which bears almost no authentic support for the party’s anti-government domestic-policy agenda. He has the celebrity and money to sustain such a run. An independent Trump run would virtually eliminate any chance of Republican victory.
Republicans’ success requires the party to steer a course between these two outcomes — one damaging, the other ruinous. They must keep Trump within the party without allowing him to contaminate the party. Such an outcome is certainly possible. It will not be easy. More unnerving for Republican power brokers is the fact that the success of their project lies mainly in Trump’s hands. And what Trump is even trying to achieve is difficult to ascertain.
There are two broad possibilities that explain Trump’s campaign. The first is that he has no real plan. His presidential run is the extension of his broader public persona — a bid for attention and to carry out grudges. Trump is running to spite the reporters and pundits who predicted he would never actually enter the race. Or perhaps he started out trying to grab attention, and simply kept going. Or he actually wants to be president in some vague way, and believes or hopes the force of his personality will carry him through. Or he just hates Jeb Bush a lot — one “Trump associate” told the Washington Post that Trump “has two goals: One, to be elected president, and two, to have Jeb not be president” — and would drop out of the race if Scott Walker or Marco Rubio supplants Bush.
(click here to continue reading What Is the Trump Endgame? — NYMag.)
Fox News and its allies have created the Trump monster, and now it is ravaging their carefully crafted Potemkin villages of Tea Party supporters and rage-fiends. I guffaw. I guffaw nearly to the point of tears…Footnotes:
As part of an interesting and long discussion of politics and tech nerds by David Roberts, he makes this historic point:
In postwar, mid-20th-century America, there was a period of substantial bipartisanship, and it powerfully shaped the way political and economic elites think about US politics. The popular picture of how politics works — reaching across the aisle, twisting arms, building coalitions behind common-sense policy — has clung to America’s self-conception long after the underlying structural features that enabled bipartisanship fundamentally shifted.
What enabled bipartisanship was, to simplify matters, the existence of socially liberal Republicans in the Northeast and Democrats in the South who were fiscally conservative and virulently racist. Ideologically heterogeneous parties meant that transactional, cross-party coalitions were relatively easy to come by.
Over the past several decades, the parties have polarized, i.e., sorted themselves ideologically (that’s what the GOP’s “Southern strategy” was about). Racist conservative Democrats became Republicans and social liberals became Democrats. The process has now all but completed: The rightmost national Democrat is now to the left of the leftmost national Republican.
Crucially, however, the process of polarization has been asymmetrical. While almost all liberals have become Democrats and almost all conservatives have become Republicans, far more Republicans self-identify as conservative than Democrats do as liberal, and consequently the GOP has moved much further right than the Democratic Party has left.
Conservative whites, freaked out by hippies in the ’60s, blacks in the ’70s, communists in the ’80s, Clintons in the ’90s, Muslims in the ’00s, and Obama more recently, are now more or less permanently freaked out, gripped by a sense of “aggrieved entitlement,” convinced that they are “losing their country.” (If only someone would come along and promise to make it great again!)
As the GOP has grown more demographically and ideologically homogeneous, it has become, in the memorable words of congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, “a resurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
As the ongoing Republican primary is revealing in gruesome detail, asymmetrical polarization seems a long way from burning itself out.
(click here to continue reading Tech nerds are smart. But they can’t seem to get their heads around politics. – Vox.)
The political center does not exist – in any real sense – and our constitution empowers the rural minority to have an oversized say in deciding policy.
Third, in practical coalitional politics, the “center” will tend to be shaped not by rational thinking but by money and power. If there is any space left for bipartisanship in US politics, it is around measures that benefit corporate elites.
The right-wing base has a coherent position on climate change: It’s a hoax, so we shouldn’t do anything about it. The left-wing base has a coherent position: It’s happening, so we should do something about it. The “centrist” position, shared by conservative Democrats and the few remaining moderate Republicans, is that it’s happening but we shouldn’t do anything about it. That’s not centrist in any meaningful ideological sense; instead, like most areas of overlap between the parties, it is corporatist.
This paragraph by Paul Krugman made me laugh:
Joe Weisenthal asked me why Donald Trump is riding so high in the polls; as he said, my answer was subtle and nuanced.
But seriously, why is anyone surprised? Year after year the GOP base has been fed fantasies about death panels, senior figures have flirted with birtherism and routinely peddled conspiracy theories whenever good news arrives about health reform or the economy, a centrist president has been portrayed as a socialist who hates America, sitting governors have deferred to craziness over military exercises. Oh, and the unemployed have been blamed for their own plight, food stamp recipients and the disabled portrayed as malingerers. Then along comes Trump, who embodies the base’s values, its intellectual outlook, its deep lack of empathy for the unfortunate. And up goes the cry: “Don’t base voters realize that he’s not a serious figure?”
(click here to continue reading The Face of the Base – The New York Times.)
Donald Trump is the bloviating embodiment of the Tea Party, and all those who supported it for their own nefarious ends. I’m laughing, I just hope I won’t be crying in November, 2016…
Charles Pierce writes an essay on the inevitability of Donald Trump joining the Republican Clown Car, 2015 edition, and you should certainly click through to the short piece, and read it yourself. He concludes:
[Trump] is the inevitable result of 40 years of political conjuring, mainly by Republicans, but abetted by far too many Democrats as well. He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued that our political institutions should be run “like a business.” (Like whose businesses? Like Trump’s? Like Carly Fiorina’s Hewlett Packard?) He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued why the government can’t balance its books “the way any American family would.”
He is the inevitable result of the deregulated economy that was deregulated out of a well-cultivated wonder and awe directed at the various masters of the universe. Sooner or later, all of this misbegotten magical thinking was going to burp up a clown like Donald Trump. Sooner or later, the conversion of the institutions of the national legislature into vehicles for polite ratfcking was going to burp up a Trey Gowdy, who will interrogate not the actual Sid Blumenthal, but the one that exists in thousands of fundraising letters and chain e-mails. The politics of this country have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of hallucinations today. Wish I could say I was surprised.
(click here to continue reading Donald Trump Joins the Race.)
More details about the TPP, and more reasons for Democrats1 to oppose it.
Have you heard? The TPP is a massive, controversial “free trade” agreement currently being pushed by big corporations and negotiated behind closed doors by officials from the United States and 11 other countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “trade” pact model that has spurred massive U.S. trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports. The TPP not only replicates, but expands NAFTA’s special protections for firms that offshore U.S. jobs. And U.S. TPP negotiators literally used the 2011 Korea FTA – under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged – as the template for the TPP. In one fell swoop, this secretive deal could:
In one fell swoop, this secretive deal could:
Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not mainly about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules.
The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to foreign tribunals to challenge public interest policies that they claim frustrate their expectations. The tribunals would be authorized to order taxpayer compensation to the foreign corporations for the “expected future profits” they surmise would be inhibited by the challenged policies.
(click here to continue reading Trans-Pacific Partnership.)
especially since corporate America is so gung-ho for the agreement:
As big a setback as Friday’s vote on Capitol Hill was for President Obama’s efforts to advance his trade agenda, it was an even bigger rebuff for the leaders of American business.
While there are deep divisions over trade policy among Democrats, and to some extent among Republicans as well, corporate America has been nearly unified in its support of a deal that would lower various barriers to trade and investment between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.
Though many sought to put the best face on the vote, business groups and chief executives were quick to voice their displeasure with the House’s rejection of aid to workers harmed by imports, which could doom prospects for eventual approval of a wider trade pact.
(click here to continue reading Business Leaders React With Dismay to Defeat of Trade Bill – NYTimes.com.)
But still, the Democrats are to blame, not the Republicans who have majorities in both House and Senate…
Although certainly a minority, a few business groups oppose the trade pact. Unions, environmental groups and many liberals are also opposed. Many critics cited the job losses that followed the signing of North American Free Trade Agreement more than two decades ago.
There was also some applause for the defeat from groups like the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of progressive business organizations.
“The T.P.P. would give multinational corporations unprecedented power to evade safeguards that protect consumers, workers and the environment. It would hurt smaller, innovative businesses,” said David Levine, the group’s co-founder.
While most economists generally support the White House’s trade agenda, some on the left have kept up a steady drumbeat, warning that it has been structured primarily to advance the interests of Wall Street and major corporations doing business abroad.
(click here to continue reading Business Leaders React With Dismay to Defeat of Trade Bill – NYTimes.com.)
Yeah, economists like the NYT’s own Paul Krugman, who isn’t mentioned in this article, but who says he is against the TPP.Footnotes:
- and Republicans [↩]
I’m probably not the only one amused at the framing of the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal. You see, even though Republicans have majorities in both House and Senate, the TPP failed solely because of those intransigent Democrats! How dare they vote out of lockstep with the President?
The Chicago Tribune’s headline spells it out:
The House vote Friday included two related measures, both of which had to pass in order to send the legislation — which was approved last month by the Senate — to the president’s desk.
A bill to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate future trade deals was approved by a 219-211 vote. But another measure regarding assistance funds to retrain workers — a program typically supported by Democrats — failed 126-302 largely because Democrats voted against it.
Because the Senate had previously approved both measures as a single bill, the House’s failure to pass the retraining measure prevented the overall package from advancing. Supporters plan to hold another vote on the retraining bill early next week, giving the White House and congressional Republicans another chance to drum up votes.
Obama’s push for the legislation was his biggest lobbying effort since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. He personally pressed fellow Democrats to support the measure in a meeting Friday morning on Capitol Hill and during an unscheduled appearance Thursday night at the annual congressional ballgame at the Nationals ballpark.
(click here to continue reading Obama suffers big loss as trade bill is defeated at hands of Democrats – Chicago Tribune.)
from the NYT, a slightly less pointed version:
He made it personal. He appealed to their loyalty. He asked them to give him what every modern president has had. He argued the facts, disputed the politics, quarreled over the history and at times lashed out at those who still refused to stand with him.
Yet in the end, after years of frustration with Republicans blocking his ideas in Congress, President Obama on Friday found the most sweeping legislative initiative left on his agenda thwarted not by the opposition but by his own party. If not for his fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama would have a landmark trade bill heading to his desk for signature.
(click here to continue reading Washington Dysfunction, With a Twist: Democrats Desert Their President – NYTimes.com.)
The Wall Street Journal’s perspective is clear: Obama should just resign now since there are only 2 years left in his term…
House Democrats dealt President Barack Obama a major setback in his bid for expanded trade-negotiating powers, roundly rejecting on Friday a workers-aid program that was a key component of the bill and leaving the White House’s trade agenda in limbo.
While stinging, the vote was not the last word in the trade fight, as House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said there would be a re-vote by Tuesday on extending the aid program, which is designed to help workers hurt by international trade.
But Friday’s defeat showed the degree to which Mr. Obama’s trade agenda is on shaky ground in Congress. The House voted against the workers-aid program by 126-302. To improve those numbers, House Republican leaders, the White House and pro-trade businesses will need to find ways to win over a combination of Democrats who are skeptical of the overall trade push and Republicans leery of supporting the aid package.
It also underscored the waning influence of a second-term president, particularly on an issue many Democrats see as toxic to their re-election prospects, given concerns in their districts that U.S. jobs are being sent overseas.
(click here to continue reading House Deals Blow to Obama’s Bid for Trade Deal, Rejects Worker-Aid Program – WSJ.)
You get the idea.
The political battle over the enormous, twelve-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership keeps getting stranger. President Obama has made the completion of the deal the number-one legislative priority of his second term. Indeed, Republican opponents of the T.P.P., in an effort to rally the red-state troops, have begun calling it Obamatrade. And yet most of the plan’s opponents are not Republicans; they’re Democrats.
Obama’s chief allies in his vote-by-vote fight in the House of Representatives to win “fast-track authority” to negotiate this and other trade deals are Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan—not his usual foxhole companions. The vote may come as soon as Friday. The House Republican leaders tell their dubious members that they are supporting Obama only in order to “constrain” him. Meanwhile, Obama is lobbying members of the Black Congressional Caucus, whose support he can normally count on, tirelessly and, for the most part, fruitlessly. “The president’s done everything except let me fly Air Force One,” Representative Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, told the Christian Science Monitor this week. Nonetheless, Richmond said, “I’m leaning no.”
The long, bad aftertaste of NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994—explains much of the Democratic opposition to the T.P.P. Ronald Reagan originally proposed NAFTA, but Bill Clinton championed it, got it through Congress mainly on Republican votes, and signed it. In many Democratic districts, NAFTA is still widely blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs, and for long-term downward pressure on wages. When President Obama argues that the T.P.P. is not NAFTA, he is correct. It convenes Pacific Rim nations and economies of many stripes, from wealthy, democratic Japan to authoritarian, impoverished Vietnam, and it includes six countries with which the United States already has free-trade agreements. If enacted, it will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity. It is less a traditional trade deal than a comprehensive economic treaty and, at least for the United States, a strategic hedge against the vast and growing weight of Chinese regional influence. What exactly the T.P.P. will do, however, is difficult to know, because its terms are being negotiated in secret. Only “cleared advisors,” most of them representing various private industries, are permitted to work on the text. Leaked drafts of chapters have occasionally surfaced—enough to alarm, among others, environmentalists, labor groups, and advocates for affordable medicine.
(click here to continue reading Why Does Obama Want This Trade Deal So Badly? – The New Yorker.)
It’s hard to think of a fight that has showed President Obama to worse effect than his effort to pass Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership over widespread Democratic opposition. His respect for his opponents has been at low ebb, and since many of his opponents in this fight are Democrats, that means we’ve seen him taking uncharacteristically nasty shots at people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Now, in the aftermath of a vote in which the must-pass-to-pass-the-TPA Trade Adjustment Assistance was defeated, Obama used his weekly address to mislead about what’s going on. House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the traditionally Democrat-supported assistance program for displaced workers because, according to the rule the House had adopted, TAA was linked to the fast-track TPA bill. No TAA, no TPA. Since TPA passed in the wake of TAA’s defeat, Republican leadership is bringing TAA back for another vote in hopes of getting it, and fast track along with it, through next week. That’s the weird, confusing procedural background—background Obama pretended does not exist as he touted the benefits of Trade Adjustment Assistance in his weekly address.
(click here to continue reading Obama misleads on trade assistance and fast track in weekly address.)
Paul Krugman calls it a defeat of the Davos Democrats, I like that phrase:
OK, I didn’t see that coming: even though I have come out as a lukewarm opponent of TPP, I assumed that it would happen anyway — the way trade deals (or in this case, dispute settlement and intellectual property deals that pretend to be about trade) always do. But no, or not so far.
A brief aside: I don’t think it’s right to call this a case of Washington “dysfunction”. Dysfunction is when we get outcomes nobody wants, or fail to do things everyone wants done, because there doesn’t seem to be any way to package the politics. In this case, however, people who oppose TPP voted down key enabling measures — that is, they got what they wanted. Calling this “dysfunction” presumes that this deal is a good idea — and that kind of presumption is precisely what got successfully challenged yesterday.
Or to put it another way, one way to see this is as the last stand of the Davos Democrats.
Davos Democrats are known as the people who told us to trust unregulated finance and fear invisible bond vigilantes. They just don’t have the credibility to pull off arguments from authority any more. And it doesn’t say much for their perspicacity that they apparently had no idea that the world has changed.
TPP’s Democratic supporters thought they could dictate to their party like it’s 1999. They can’t.
(click here to continue reading Decline and Fall of the Davos Democrats – NYTimes.com.)
A book that I’ve been meaning to read as well…
I finally read John Kelly’s troubling The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People (iBook) Our problems feel small. Ireland lost one in three people in the late 1840s. At least a million died in the famine and its related illnesses; another two million fled for England, Canada, the United States or other ports of refuge.
But I kept coming back to U.S. politics anyway. Hauntingly, Kelly repeats the phrase that drove British famine relief (or lack of it): they were so determined to end Irish “dependence on government” that they stalled or blocked provision of food, public works projects and other proposals that might have kept more Irish alive and fed. The phrase appears at least seven times, by my count, in the book. “Dependence on government:” Haven’t we heard that somewhere?
In fact, the day after finishing Kelly’s book, I found Salon’s Michael Lind writing about the Heritage Foundation brief, “The Index of Dependence on Government.” It could have been the title of a report by famine villain Charles Trevelyan, the British Treasury assistant secretary whose anti-Irish moralism thwarted relief, but of course it was written by well-paid conservative Beltway think tankers. The very same day PBS aired a Frontline documentary revealing that our fabulously wealthy country has the fourth highest child-poverty rate in the developed world, just behind Mexico, Chile and Turkey.
And I couldn’t help thinking: we haven’t come far at all.
(click here to continue reading When right-wing blather killed – Salon.com.)
and Joan Walsh’s thumbnail review:
A brief overview is necessary: Kelly fights the notion that the British famine response was “genocide,” or even, as I put it in my book, “ethnic cleansing.” It was more benign and commonplace, he argues, though still cruel and deadly: An effort to use a tragedy to advance a political agenda, and to imagine God’s hand at work advancing that agenda, in matters that are well within the realm of human action to prevent or correct.
Famine Ireland combined the worst of feudalism and capitalism. Anglo-Irish landlords, given their land in “plantations” after decades of war in the 16th and 17th centuries to displace conquered Irish Catholics, were a big part of the problem. At least a quarter were absentee and only wanted the highest rents they could gouge; resident landlords preferred “conspicuous consumption” – Ireland enjoyed a million acres of deer parks and gardens – to building the infrastructure of modern agriculture.
So British leaders wanted to use the famine “to modernize the Irish agricultural economy, which was widely viewed as the principal source of Ireland’s poverty and chronic violence, and to improve the Irish character, which exhibited an alarming ‘dependence on government’ and was utterly lacking in the virtues of the new industrial age, such as self-discipline and initiative,” Kelly writes. Trevelyan told a colleague: God “sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson…[and it] must not be too mitigated.”
Sometimes I felt like quibbling with Kelly over his effort to refute charges that the famine response was a deliberate form of ethnic cleansing, given the way it was driven by centuries of crippling prejudice against Irish Catholics. But he’s right: It isn’t genocide when we don’t act to stop the deaths of people we don’t care about in the first place. Certainly some Irish leaders veered into crazy anti-British conspiracy theories. The famine even had its version of Jeremiah Wright: Irish revolutionary John Mitchel, who claimed the British government created typhus in laboratories and deliberately infected the Irish, much as Wright accused the U.S. government of spreading AIDS in poor black communities. I guess centuries of oppression can lead to some crazy, intemperate ideas.
Laura Miller adds:
The Irish economy was backward and precarious, but for Trevelyan the failure of the potato crop presented not a life-or-death crisis but an opportunity to forcibly modernize it. He agreed to a limited public works program (in which out-of-work laborers were paid a pittance to build roads to nowhere) because he believed it would break the peasant class of its reliance on barter and subsistence farming. The idea was to sell them corn imported from overseas because the grain couldn’t be cultivated in Ireland, thereby accustoming them to using money. However, when Ireland’s mercantile men objected to the price-depressing effects of government-funded grain, Trevelyan vowed not to sell it too cheaply, claiming that high prices would promote foreign imports.
These strategies amount to the 19th-century version of what Naomi Klein has dubbed the “Shock Doctrine”: an attempt to force economic reforms on a population reeling in the aftermath of a disaster. Kelly intersperses the nitty gritty of the shifting Irish economic situation with horrific glimpses of its human toll: streets jammed with gaunt, half-naked wraiths who had sold their clothes for food, families gathered mutely in miserable cottages to die, unburied corpses by the roadside, entire hamlets razed by landlords seeking to evict “dead weight” tenants they’d otherwise have to help. If only these unfortunates could have sought comfort in “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity”!
Recognizing that the British handling of the famine was “parsimonious, short-sighted, grotesquely twisted by religion and ideology” rather than deliberately genocidal is important because while powerful, paranoid, racist madmen like Hitler are relatively rare, our own time is replete with men like Trevelyan. The Moralists saw the famine as a combination of divine judgement on the Irish people and the market working itself out in accordance with God’s plan, an equation of brutal capitalism with pseudo-Christian piety that can be just as destructive as outright malevolence. That version of the story may not be as satisfying dramatically and morally as the one with the evil, homicidal Englishman, but it does do what history does best, which is to show us how not to repeat it.
(click here to continue reading “The Graves Are Walking”: Was the Great Potato Famine a genocide? – Salon.com.)
A police state? Whoever could imagine such a thing in the United States of America? Civil liberties? Ha! The Bill of Rights is no longer required because the War on Terra has usurped them.
This is the real legacy of disgraced former Congressman Dennis Hastert: willingly gutting the Constitution to please the Neo Cons and Dick Cheney, and his little puppy GWB.
Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies.
The Associated Press traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.
For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has its own planes, also registered to fake companies, according to a 2011 Justice Department inspector general report. At the time, the DEA had 92 aircraft in its fleet. And since 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service has operated an aerial surveillance program with its own fleet equipped with technology that can capture data from thousands of cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.
Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public.
(click here to continue reading FBI behind mysterious surveillance flights over Chicago, other U.S. cities – Chicago Tribune.)
In other words, we are all assumed to be guilty of something, and thus can be monitored and spied upon without need for quaint antiques like warrants or probable cause.
Evolving technology can record higher-quality video from long distances, even at night, and can capture certain identifying information from cellphones using a device known as a “cell-site simulator” — or Stingray, to use one of the product’s brand names. These can trick pinpointed cellphones into revealing identification numbers of subscribers, including those not suspected of a crime.
The FBI has recently begun obtaining court orders to use this technology. Previously, the Obama administration had been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.
Up in the sky! Look! It’s a bird! A plane! It’s the FBI!
From Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett last year:
The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.
The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.
Even having encryption on a phone, such as the kind included on Apple Inc.’s iPhone 6, doesn’t prevent this process.
Also unknown are the steps taken to ensure data collected on innocent people isn’t kept for future examination by investigators. A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that over-collection of data by investigators, and stockpiling of such data, was a violation of the Constitution.
The dirtbox and Stingray are both types of what tech experts call “IMSI catchers,’’ named for the identification system used by networks to identify individual cellphones.
The name “dirtbox’’ came from the acronym of the company making the device, DRT, for Digital Receiver Technology Inc., people said. DRT is now a subsidiary of Boeing. A Boeing spokeswoman declined to comment.
“DRT has developed a device that emulates a cellular base station to attract cellphones for a registration process even when they are not in use,’’ according to a 2010 regulatory filing Boeing made with the U.S. Commerce Department, which touted the device’s success in finding contraband cellphones smuggled in to prison inmates.
(click here to continue reading Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program – WSJ.)
and a follow up by the same reporter:
The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones at a time, part of a secret high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.
The CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said.
Today, the Justice Department program, whose existence was reported by The Wall Street Journal last year, is used to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used to track terror suspects and intelligence targets overseas, the people said.
The surveillance system briefly identifies large numbers of cellphones belonging to citizens unrelated to the search. The practice can also briefly interfere with the ability to make calls, these people said.
Some law-enforcement officials are concerned the aerial surveillance of cellphone signals inappropriately mixes traditional police work with the tactics and technology of overseas spy work that is constrained by fewer rules. Civil-liberties groups say the technique amounts to a digital dragnet of innocent Americans’ phones.
(click here to continue reading CIA Aided Justice Department Secret Program to Spy on U.S. Cellphones – WSJ.)
Remember when the CIA was banned on spying on Americans, and from conducting operations on American soil? Ah, those were the days…
To civil libertarians, the close involvement of America’s premier international spy agency with a domestic law-enforcement arm shows how military and espionage techniques are now being used on U.S. citizens.
“There’s a lot of privacy concerns in something this widespread, and those concerns only increase if we have an intelligence agency coordinating with them,” said Andrew Crocker of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has filed a lawsuit seeking more details about the program and its origins.
Shocking, I know, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron, et al, don’t want to alter their profit streams, asking to be able to continue sending bomb trains throughout the country. The reason? Updating the safety equipment would cost money. What a compelling argument, worthy of a 6th grade debate team.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.
The trade group, which represents companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, has long argued that forcing oil producers and shippers to use newer tank cars and replace older models would impose high costs on the industry and lead to a shortfall in tank car capacity.
The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment. It also challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.
(click here to continue reading Oil Industry Asks Court to Block Rail Transport Safety Rules – NYTimes.com.)
If Exxon Mobil were forced to spend $100,000,000 updating the bomb cars, ((a number I just pulled out of the air, and probably a lot more than they would actually pay)) would it be a large enough number to reduce their annual profits measurably? In 2014 alone, ExxonMobil reported revenue of $394,105,000,000. Chevron’s reported revenue for 2014 was $211,970, 000,000 by the way. I would hazard a guess their accountants are top notch, and most of the costs of updating bomb trains would be written off as operating expense, right? The oil industry has been making immense, unimaginable profits for decades, or more.
In other words, protesting that updating the rail cars so that they don’t blow up communities and cause fires that last for weeks because updating the rail cars would cost too much is a lame argument. Cries pleading poverty from corporations as wealthy as Chevron is laughable.
Not that the Transportation Department and Barack Obama will listen to me, but my negotiation points would include the tax subsidies the oil and gas industry currently enjoy: fix the bomb trains and you get to keep half of your tax subsidies.
The oil industry’s lobbyists like to argue that its array of tax write-offs (which allow companies to deduct everything from drilling costs to the declining value of their wells) aren’t any different than other deductions for less publicly reviled companies. Cutting them will discourage new exploration and put jobs at risk, they claim.
Yet, some of the breaks are anachronisms that date back almost to the days of John D. Rockefeller. And in a world of permanently high crude prices, there’s very little rationale for subsidizing the bottom lines of companies like ExxonMobil and BP.
Make no mistake, either: Those profits are perfectly healthy. Between drilling and refining, Exxon’s U.S. operations alone earned $7.5 billion after taxes in 2012. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the so-called “independent” oil companies and the top oil driller in Texas, raked in $7.1 billion via its oil and gas division.
(click here to continue reading America’s Most Obvious Tax Reform Idea: Kill the Oil and Gas Subsidies – The Atlantic.)
Electricity is a Bitter Herb…
In a just world, these evil doers would be publicly humiliated, named by name, and forced to stand trial for war crimes at The Hague. The Bush administration too. It’s a travesty that President Obama’s response to war crimes perpetrated by his predecessor was to sweep all the evidence under the rug and shrug, “Bygones…”
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
(click here to continue reading Report Says American Psychological Association Collaborated on Torture Justification – NYTimes.com.)
and why did the Bush thugs do it?
The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.
Progressives do have a history with Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel, and it isn’t a pleasant one. Sadly, it does look like Rahm-bo might squeak out a win over Chuy Garcia, but the special runoff election isn’t until April 7th, so there is still hope.
Digby writes, in part, a bit of the history:
Way back in the day (a decade ago) when the Progressive Netroots were just starting to organize, the first “scalp” any of the left leaning movement activists took was that of a Democratic hack from Maryland named Al Wynn when they backed a progressive challenger by the name of Donna Edwards. Edwards defeated Wynn in 2008 and is now running to replace Senator Barbara Mikulski who recently announced her retirement. In each congressional cycle Netroots progressives have fought a number of hard-fought primaries, losing more often than they won (just like the Tea Party) but slowly managing to make the House of Representatives a bit more progressive than it was before. Congressional representatives like Matt Cartwright, Beto O’Rourke and Senators like Jon Tester were backed strongly by the grassroots of the party and managed to unseat incumbents. Nobody in the beltway noticed or cared, of course. (Progressives always forget to order their tri-corner hats and Betsy Ross wigs…)
But over time, it’s had an effect and not just because of the “scalps” they took, but because all of those hard fought races, whether won or lost, showed the incumbents that there was a restive group of activists out there who could challenge the status quo. And aside from primary challenges, progressives in congress from Keith Ellison and Alan Grayson in the House to Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin in the Senate were enthusiastically supported by Netroots groups like, Move On, DFA, PCCC and Blue America (disclosure: I am a principal in that group) among a number of others, a support which translates into small donor involvement, campaign volunteering and strategic advice as well as engaged in grassroots activism for progressive congressional initiatives. It’s made a difference. The House and Senate today have progressive wings that are active and vocal in a way they did not a decade ago.
Back in 2006 when all this really started to come together there was one Democrat who quickly determined that this nascent progressive movement was a major threat to the status quo. His name was Rahm Emanuel who was, at the time, an Illinois congressman in charge of candidate recruitment for the congressional Democrats. If there’s anyone who can take credit for being the catalyst for this long term Netroots commitment to elect progressives to congress it is him. His crude dismissal of grassroots concerns was blatant. His contempt for anyone who disagreed with his centrist Blue Dog/New Democrat philosophy was palpable. While his wholehearted support for big money interests was seen as the ultimate in strategic brilliance by the beltway elites, it repelled Democratic activists everywhere.
Despite the fact that lame-duck George W. Bush and the war in Iraq were so unpopular that virtually anyone who could draw a breath who had a D after his or her name could have won, the conventional wisdom said that Emanuel’s DCCC win in the off year election of 2006 was a validation of his political savvy. (In case you were wondering, Emanuel wasn’t elected to congress until after the Iraq war resolution but was on record supporting it, saying that the U.S. needed a “muscular projection of force” there. You can let the shrinks sort out just what that language says about him …)
When the newly elected President Obama tapped him as chief-of-staff, you could hear progressives screaming “nooooooo” across the land. And when he departed to run for mayor of Chicago, the collective sigh of progressive relief (everywhere but Chicago) was just as audible. He is, in other words, the symbol of everything progressives are trying to change about the Democratic Party.
And right now, in Chicago, a progressive is giving him the personal challenge of his political lifetime. Political observers were stunned last month when a longtime Illinois politician by the name of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia forced Emanuel into a runoff for his second term as mayor. Perhaps stunned isn’t really the right word. Apoplectic is more apt. After all, Emanuel has a seemingly unending supply of money with which he tried to buy off every bit of institutional support and his network of elite friendships goes all the way up to the White House. But it turns out that his arrogance and corruption may be too much even for a city that is anything but starry-eyed about such things.
(click here to continue reading Why the left hates this man: Rahm Emanuel’s sins against the progressive movement – Salon.com.)
Will Obama have to resort to veto pen finally, now that Harry Reid is no longer blocking ridiculous GOP bills from getting passed? I guess we’ll soon see. And the real test will be on the non-sexy things, like regulatory reform.
Obama Has Only Vetoed 2 Bills. That’s About to Change—Thanks to Democrats | Mother Jones: “Regulatory reform: By far the least sexy of the topics that might be forced on Obama, changes to how the government writes its rules could pose the biggest trouble for the president. Unlike finance, environmental rules, or health care reform, it’s an obscure topic unlikely to garner an outpouring of public outcry. These are changes portrayed as making government more sensible and business-friendly, always a favorite image to project by moderate Democrats who still cling to Bill Clinton’s mantra of deconstructing Big Government, yet they could stymie efforts to write rules for those specific policy areas.
Changes to how the government writes rules ‘seem both kind of technical and innocent, because they talk about things like cost-benefit analysis, or increasing judicial review, or more economic requirements to help small business’ says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. ‘Things that don’t sound threatening and maybe even ease tensions with constituents who don’t really like the idea of red tape and have this idea that if we change it at the federal level lots would be easier at home.’ But in essence, these rules just offer cover for big business to delay the laws that they don’t want to comply with—continuing to set their own rules and skating by for years after the public thinks they’ve already been kept in check.
Last week, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill that would force all agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each rule. This process tends to favor business interests over consumers. The bill would also make it easier for judges to toss aside rules and force agencies to hold lengthy public hearings for each rule they consider. Past iterations of this bill have received support from Senate moderates like Florida’s Bill Nelson, Maine’s King, and West Virginia’s Manchin.
That group of 10 to 15 Democrats willing to break from the rest of the party aren’t hiding their plans. ‘If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them,’ Manchin said earlier this month, ‘and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them.'”
During the very first week of the 114th Congress, the new agenda was made clear: Bills to end the Affordable Care Act, to restrict abortion rights, to stop Obama’s immigration plan, and a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Paul Krugman laughs, and points out the absurdity of the GOP’s Carbon Keynesianism…
It should come as no surprise that the very first move of the new Republican Senate is an attempt to push President Obama into approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands. After all, debts must be paid, and the oil and gas industry — which gave 87 percent of its 2014 campaign contributions to the G.O.P. — expects to be rewarded for its support.
Building Keystone XL could slightly increase U.S. employment. In fact, it might replace almost 5 percent of the jobs America has lost because of destructive cuts in federal spending, which were in turn the direct result of Republican blackmail over the debt ceiling.
Oh, and don’t tell me that the cases are completely different. You can’t consistently claim that pipeline spending creates jobs while government spending doesn’t.
Consider, for example, the case of military spending. When it comes to possible cuts in defense contracts, politicians who loudly proclaim that every dollar the government spends comes at the expense of the private sector suddenly begin talking about all the jobs that will be destroyed. They even begin talking about the multiplier effect, as reduced spending by defense workers leads to job losses in other industries. This is the phenomenon former Representative Barney Frank dubbed “weaponized Keynesianism.”
And the argument being made for Keystone XL is very similar; call it “carbonized Keynesianism.” Yes, approving the pipeline would mobilize some money that would otherwise have sat idle, and in so doing create some jobs — 42,000 during the construction phase, according to the most widely cited estimate. (Once completed, the pipeline would employ only a few dozen workers.) But government spending on roads, bridges and schools would do the same thing.
And the job gains from the pipeline would, as I said, be only a tiny fraction — less than 5 percent — of the job losses from sequestration, which in turn are only part of the damage done by spending cuts in general. If Mr. McConnell and company really believe that we need more spending to create jobs, why not support a push to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure?
So what should be done about Keystone XL? If you believe that it would be environmentally damaging — which I do — then you should be against it, and you should ignore the claims about job creation. The numbers being thrown around are tiny compared with the country’s overall work force.
(click here to continue reading For the Love of Carbon – NYTimes.com.)
Infrastructure improvement? Blasphemy! Spending money to fix bridges, roads, water supply pipes, commuter rails – that’s Socialism! But building a massive pipeline to ship oil from Canada to China via the Gulf of Mexico is God’s commandment. If you consider Mammon a God that is…
It is almost amusing how much crazy economic policy was initiated by the expense account of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Without the Laffer Curve, there would be no Supply Side Economic Voodoo theory, and perhaps our country wouldn’t be on a downward spiral. Also, the Laffer Curve, as originally formulated, never claimed to know what the magical tax rate was, and in fact, could be interpreted as arguing that tax rates should increase!
The Laffer Curve came about as the result of a lunch conversation in 1974 among conservative economist Arthur Laffer, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. The curve in question is the relationship between tax revenues and tax rates—at zero percent, no tax revenue will be collected because no income is taxed, while at 100 percent, no revenue will be collected because there is no incentive to work if all income is confiscated. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot: the perfect rate of taxation at which revenue is maximized, and where any tax increases past that point will actually result in a decrease in revenue.
The Laffer Curve has been consistently used as justification for the supply-side belief that tax cuts will pay for themselves through the increased economic activity that they will create. This belief is no longer simply a theory, but is now official federal policy: the 114th Congress changed the rules for how budget bills are evaluated from static scoring to what is called “dynamic scoring,” which will mask the actual cost of tax cuts by simply assuming that they will increase economic output.
(click here to continue reading The Laffer Curve has flatlined.)
As an aside, I’m amazed that for years, the PR slogan was that the Republican Party was the business party, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Since World War II, there’s been a strikingly consistent pattern in American politics: The economy does much better when a Democrat is in the White House.
More specifically, since 1947, the U.S. economy has grown at an average real rate of 4.35 percent under Democratic presidents and just 2.54 percent under Republicans
(click here to continue reading The U.S. economy does better under Democratic presidents — is it just luck? – The Washington Post.)
Really though, it seems as if the GOP is better for business executives instead of businesses. The executives make more, by outsourcing jobs, enjoying reduced tax rates and increased tax loopholes for things like private jets and so on. More take-home pay, in other words, and less investing in the business itself. For non-executives, the GOP is not your party, nor are you even invited, except during election season.
Reactionary conservatives like Governor Sam Brownback and Governor Scott Walker have put the Laffer Curve to work, slicing government revenue, with predictably dire results:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback brought on Arthur Laffer as an advisor to steer his radical experiment of cutting taxes to the bone under the assumption that the cuts would simply pay for themselves through economic expansion. The results, however, have been absolutely horrific: job growth on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metropolitan area is occurring at four times the rate on the Kansas side. Education is being vastly underfunded. And perhaps most tellingly, the state collected far less money in taxes than it expected in December, even after downgrading expectations. In other words, Laffer was wrong in every single way possible.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has followed a path nearly has extreme as that of Brownback, but is being forced to scale his ambitions back because the theory just isn’t working:
Earlier this year, just before enacting the half-billion-dollar tax cut, Walker said it was just the beginning — that he wanted to eliminate income taxes. Now, a representative of Walker, asked about the elimination plan said the governor “has only said that he would explore other areas of tax reform.” The state has a projected $2.2 billion deficit for the next biennium, 2015 to 2017. There’s also a transportation funding problem.
Now, not even his top allies in the House think new cuts aren’t possible.
The situation is so bad in Wisconsin that to try to balance the budget in anticipation of a possible 2016 presidential campaign, Walker is rumored to be considering selling off public assets as a stopgap measure just to make the numbers look good. The contrast with states like California, which raised taxes to help balance its budget and cover a shortfall in education, couldn’t be clearer: California’s revenue is surging, while tax-cutting states are figuring out how to mitigate the damage.
(click here to continue reading The Laffer Curve has flatlined.)
Will this example stop the next GOP executive branch from claiming that cutting tax rates will help grow economies? Probably not. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner tries his best to lower tax rates on his own wealth during the next four years. If Rauner was such a good business man, perhaps he’d let facts and history convince him that perhaps the marginal tax rates are too low…
To maximize real economic growth in the United States, the top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%, give or take about ten percent. Preposterous, right? Well, it turns out that’s what the data tells us, or would, if we had the ears to listen.
This post will be a bit more complicated than my usual “let’s graph some data” approach, but not by much, and I think the added complexity will be worth it. So here’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to use a statistical tool called “regression analysis” to find the relationship between the growth in real GDP and the top marginal tax rate. If you’re familiar with regressions you can skip ahead a few paragraphs.
Regression analysis (or “running regressions”) is a fairly straightforward and simple technique that is used on a daily basis by economists who work with data, not to mention people in many other professions from financiers to biologists. Because it is so simple and straightforward, a popular form of regression analysis (“ordinary least squares” or “OLS”) regression is even built into popular spreadsheets like Excel.
(Click here to continue reading http://angrybearblog.com/2010/12/top-marginal-income-tax-rate-should-be.html The top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%…)
If you ever doubted that America has two sets of laws; one for the elite, and one for rest us, look no further than the case of career Republican operative and Pentagon courtier, General David Patraeus.
Petraeus, a retired four-star general who served as commander of American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has said he never provided classified information to Ms. Broadwell, and has indicated to the Justice Department that he has no interest in a plea deal that would spare him an embarrassing trial. A lawyer for Mr. Petraeus, Robert B. Barnett, said Friday he had no comment.
The officials who said that charges had been recommended were briefed on the investigation but asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
Mr. Holder was expected to decide by the end of last year whether to bring charges against Mr. Petraeus, but he has not indicated how he plans to proceed. The delay has frustrated some Justice Department and F.B.I. officials and investigators who have questioned whether Mr. Petraeus has received special treatment at a time Mr. Holder has led a crackdown on government officials who reveal secrets to journalists.
(click here to continue reading F.B.I. and Justice Dept. Said to Seek Charges for Petraeus – NYTimes.com.)
Let us be clear: David Petraeus broke laws that he swore to upheld, despite these being fairly mundane leaks, mostly serving to burnish his own mythology. I doubt his biographer damaged national security by allowing Petraeus into her bed, and allowing his biographer access to his classified files, but the bottom line is other, lesser officials have suffered for breaking these same laws, and Petraeus has escaped consequence. If Petraeus was a low-level leaker, or someone like Edward Snowden, he’d be in Gitmo by now. Instead, he’s escaped any consequences. Why is that fair?
I understand that Washington classifies every single document possible, and this is a problem too, but that’s not relevant. Petraeus is avoiding answering for his transgressions solely because he is well known to the public.
And as Trevor Timm write:
It doesn’t matter what Petraeus’s motive for leaking was either. While most felonies require mens rea (an intentional state of mind) for a crime to have occurred, under the Espionage Act this is not required. It doesn’t matter that Petraeus is not an actual spy. It also doesn’t matter if Petraeus leaked the information by accident, or whether he leaked it to better inform the public, or even whether he leaked it to stop a terrorist attack. It’s still technically a crime, and his motive for leaking cannot be brought up at trial as a defense.
This may seem grossly unfair (and it is!), but remember, as prosecutors themselves apparently have been arguing in private about Petraeus’s case: “lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less.” Under the Obama administration, more sources of reporters have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and many have been sentenced to jail for leaks that should have never risen to the level of a criminal indictment.
Ultimately, no one should be charged with espionage when they didn’t commit espionage, but if prosecutors are going to use the heinous Espionage Act to charge leakers, they should at least do it fairly and across the board—no matter one’s rank in the military or position in the government. So in one sense, this development is a welcome one.
For years, the Espionage Act prosecutions have only been for low-level officials, while the heads of federal agencies leak with impunity. For example, current CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director Leon Panetta, and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo are just three of many high-ranking government officials who have gotten off with little to no punishment despite the fact we know they’ve leaked information to the media that the government considers classified.