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Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Peek-a-boo, we spy you ... again

by Tom Sullivan

Via a 2011 slide presentation leaked by Edward Snowden, The Intercept provides more details on how spy agencies are "building haystacks to search for needles." By intercepting unencrypted data relayed from smartphone ads and apps to analytics firms and advertisers, British and Canadian spy agencies can compile detailed profiles of individual smart phone users. Advertisers typically collect this information to answer usage questions:

How often does a particular user open the app, and at what time of day? Where does the user live? Where does the user work? Where is the user right now? What’s the phone’s unique identifier? What version of Android or iOS is the device running? What’s the user’s IP address?

But since the data sent from apps is often unencrypted, it represents "a major privacy threat" exploitable by spy agencies. This particular spy program was/is code-named BADASS:

Analysts are able to write BADASS “rules” that look for specific types of tracking information as it travels across the internet.

For example, when someone opens an app that loads an ad, their phone normally sends an unencrypted web request (called an HTTP request) to the ad network’s servers. If this request gets intercepted by spy agencies and fed into the BADASS program, it then gets filtered through each rule to see if one applies to the request. If it finds a match, BADASS can then automatically pull out the juicy information.

And those privacy policies?

Companies that collect usage statistics about software often insist that the data is anonymous because they don’t include identifying information such as names, phone numbers, and email addresses of the users that they’re tracking. But in reality, sending unique device identifiers, IP addresses, IMEI numbers [a unique device identifier], and GPS coordinates of devices is far from anonymous.

In one slide, the phrase “anonymous usage statistics” appears in conspicuous quotation marks. The spies are well aware that despite not including specific types of information, the data they collect from leaky smartphone apps is enough for them to uniquely identify their targets.

It's going to be tough on screenwriters for Hollywood spy thrillers. How are we suspend our disbelief when what used to be the stuff of fiction no longer is? At the end of the spy comedy, The President's Analyst, androids from the shadowy TPC have the entire world under surveillance. In 1967, that knock on The Phone Company was a joke.

Monday, January 26, 2015

How Torture Wins In the US Marketplace of Ideas 
by Spocko
Over two thirds of Christians support the torture of terrorist suspects.--Washtington Post Poll, January 3, 2015
How did this happen? How did actions considered morally repugnant and war crimes in World War II, become acceptable now? And by Christians, goddamnit! Who made this happen, who let this happen, who helped it happen? And finally, is there a way to change this opinion?

My friend Dr. Rebecca Gordon, goes into detail on some of these questions in her book Mainstreaming Torture, but recently I saw a TV show and heard a radio program that illustrated how some of it happened. It took a mix of secrecy, rhetorical tricks and proactive marketing to make torture become acceptable in the US.

First I watched a tv series set in 1962 in a slightly different America. Here's the opening scene:
Fade in: Two men are watching a color newsreel in an elegant theatre. The title reads, "A New Day in America." We see images of smiling workers in factories, farms and office settings. The announcer says, "Everyone has a job, everyone knows the part they play keeping our country strong." he adds, "but our greatest days lie ahead."
In the seats a note is handed off. As one of the men leaves he is silhouetted by the American flag flying on the screen. As the flag unfurls you see the stars have been replaced by a white swastika on a blue background. The announcer ends with, "Sieg Heil." 
This is the opening scene from the new Amazon TV series "The Man in the High Castle." (The first episode is free.)

In this alternative history, based on the Phillip K. Dick book, the Nazi's won World War II, the US is split between the Japanese in the west and the Nazi's in the east.

In this timeline Hitler wasn't defeated. The Nuremberg Trials never happened. The atrocities committed by one group of humans on another were never revealed, condemned or punished.

Additionally, the ideas behind the justification and need for torture weren't discredited, nor were the people who suggested them. This also means the people who provided the intellectual, legal, moral or religious foundation for torture, genocide and other war crimes were not repudiated.

Imagine a United States in which the people who provided the justification for torture weren't discredited, shunned or marginalized by their various communities.

In the show it's fifteen years after World War II. What do people normally do after a war? They go on with their lives. Some go back to academia, others to law firms or into government positions as "senior advisers."

Christian religious leaders go back to their churches to give Sunday sermons about the Bible and the New Testament. 

People write books, become pundits and experts in their field. They talk to the media, go on talk shows to plug their latest books and go on the speaking circuit to explain how they won the war.

In this alt-US, do they allow some dissension, or do they attack, smear and jail people who try to reveal the whole story

We often hear this question, "How could Germans gone along with the atrocities that were happening?" Lots of answers.
  • They didn't know. 
  • They knew but were afraid to speak up because of the fear of their own safety. 
  • They knew, but were told these actions were necessary for safety and success. 
  • They agreed with the actions. 
  • They were angry at the people whom they believed hurt them and their country and wanted to hurt them back. 
  • They rejected previously agreed upon legal, practical, moral and religious views about torture and accepted new definitions, rationals and priorities that were provided to them for justification of torture and other war crimes.
Who's Selling Torture In the Marketplace Of Ideas?

Which leads me to the radio program I heard,  Does Mass Phone Data Collection Violate The 4th Amendment? It was a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared with John Yoo arguing that mass phone data colletion does NOT violate the 4th Amendment.

Yoo is introduced  as "controversial" by ABC correspondent John Donvan. Yoo makes a few jokes about Berkeley liberals, the audience laughs and claps and it's off to the races.

The intro reminded me of a guest on the Tonight Show offering up a funny story before he sets up the clip from his latest fish-out-of water buddy film. 

Here's the video link to the intro. Here's the transcription link to the debate.

Spoiler Alert! Yoo's side lost. The audience's minds were changed.


After watching the debate I thought about all the people who promoted and are still promoting Yoo and his ideas vs those who challenged them. Conservatives love to talk about winning in the "Marketplace of Ideas." I laugh when I hear this. It reminds me of the sales people I knew who would half jokingly say, "All I want is an unfair advantage."

The pro-torture forces look for venues where they have an unfair advantage like one sided "debates" where they control the microphone or use strawmen instead of guests.

They want to talk to people and venues they can control via fear and rhetoric. For example, Dick Cheney on Meet the Press talking to Chuck Todd about torture.  Todd wasn't going to really push Cheney, he might be seen to have an option, or worse, risk Cheney not coming on the show again.

 (BTW, listen to this great clip from the Jimmy Dore Show where Todd admits if he "barks" at guests they won't come back on the show. Audio clip, starts at 24:45 )

If Todd and the rest of the corporate media aren't going to challenge these ideas can we get them to book an anti-Dick Cheney to go on shows and challenge him?

When only the sellers of torture are being bought by the media as public the best guests and leading experts, we get an United States like in The Man in the High Castle. We have won the war but lost the values that we believed made us special.

Is this our flag?
american flag in the breeze

Or is it really this? What are our current values?

Next, what will it take to change this opinion? Who will do it? Will anyone pay for doing it in the marketplace of ideas? Or should we just accept Dick Cheney's reality has won and move on?

*American Flag, by Eric Lynch via Creative Commons license
*Flag from screen grab of Amazon Production's The Man in The High Castle 

"Sarah, Sarah, so easy to look at, so hard to define"

by digby

Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review writes an essay declaring that Sarah Palin is a joke and has been one for a very long time. Seems she doesn't make much sense and is in it for herself and not the conservative movement. Imagine that.

And then I looked at the comments to find that, lo and behold, a lot of people at NR agree with him. People like this:

I admired her for about a year, then asked myself, "Why do these 'strong women' have such p-whipped husbands?" I'd hate to come home at night to one of them and find out.

There's your problem. The gibberish isn't an issue, never has been. But then they all love Rick Perry and Ben Carson too so that's obvious. The problem is that once you get to know her she's just another ballbuster, amirite?


Statistic 'O the Day

by digby

Some things you probably didn't know:

During the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2014, U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to 133 countries -- roughly 70% of the nations on the planet -- according to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bockholt, a public affairs officer with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This capped a three-year span in which the country’s most elite forces were active in more than 150 different countries around the world, conducting missions ranging from kill/capture night raids to training exercises. And this year could be a record-breaker ... just 66 days into fiscal 2015 -- America’s most elite troops had already set foot in 105 nations, approximately 80% of 2014’s total.

Despite its massive scale and scope, this secret global war across much of the planet is unknown to most Americans.

I would imagine that most Americans don't care much either. This is a very efficient form of warfare which doesn't require any participation from the public. What could be better?

I'm just glad the US Government is omnipotent and knows exactly what it's doing at all times or I might worry that running military actions in 70% of countries in the world might create some problems down the road.

Bond villains in every sense of the word

by digby

So everyone's all agog at this number. And it's big, especially since it will apparently come from only a few hundred donors, the largest of which will be the Kochs themselves.

The Koch brothers’ political operation intends to spend $889 million in the run-up to the 2016 elections, according to an attendee at the operation’s annual winter donor gathering in the California dessert.

The spending goal, shared with donors at a Monday morning session at the Rancho Mirage Ritz Carlton, reflects the sweeping ambition of a private conservative political network that in many ways has eclipsed the power of the official Republican Party.

The $889 million spending goal dwarfs the $404 million the Republican National Committee spent during the 2012 election and the $188 million it dropped during last year’s midterm campaign.
While the RNC’s spending was supplemented by congressional campaign arms, part of the potency of the Koch operation is that it doesn’t have to spread its cash across the entire GOP political landscape.

Rather, it’s able to pick its spots, funding initiatives targeting specific slices of the electorate – such as Hispanic voters, veterans or millennials – or specific issues that jibe with the libertarian-inflected conservatism of the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch

The $889 million will be raised from a network of a few hundred donors who attend twice-a-year gatherings like the one at the Ritz. The gatherings, which are known as “seminars” in Koch world, typically run for three days – from Saturday night through Tuesday morning – and conclude with pledge sessions during which donors contribute six- and seven-figure sums to help fund the advocacy efforts detailed at the seminars.

Yes, I'm going to remind you all that this is not a Big number when you have the kind of money the Kochs have at their disposal. Combined they are worth over 100 billion dollars. Just the two brothers.

They could literally spend 50 times the amount they plan to spend and still have more than 50 billion between them and be among the top richest men on the planet.

And, by the way, this isn't about making more money for themselves. Their money is making plenty of money for them. They are true believers:

During a Saturday night welcome speech in Rancho Mirage, Charles Koch took the slightest of victory laps – calling the midterms “an important step in slowing down the march toward collectivism” – but he implored the assembled donors to dig deep headed into 2016.

Espousing a political worldview that protects free speech and “individual and property rights with equal protection for everyone under the law,” Koch said: “It is up to us. Making this vision a reality will require more than a financial commitment. It requires making it a central part of our lives.”
They are willing to spend whatever it takes to fulfill their vision. Yes, that will undoubtedly end up making them more money. But that's no longer their prime motivation. They are so rich that they've become Bond villains. They want to run the world.

Don't worry, nobody will notice the hypocrisy

by digby

Ok, this is just getting weird:
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has established a research and essay competition in honor of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz hosted by the National Defense University.

The king, who died Jan. 23 at age 90, oversaw the modernization of his country’s military during the time he spent as commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, a position he held from 1963 until he became king in 2005.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the essay competition is a fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch.

Lifetime Supporter of U.S.-Saudi Alliance]

The king was a lifetime supporter of his country’s alliance with the United States. Abdullah ruled Saudi Arabia from 2005 to his death, and served as regent of the country from 1995. He is succeeded by King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz.

“This is an important opportunity to honor the memory of the king, while also fostering scholarly research on the Arab-Muslim world, and I can think of no better home for such an initiative than NDU,” Dempsey said in a statement announcing the competition.

The competition will focus on issues related to the Arab-Muslim world and is designed to encourage strategic thinking and meaningful research on a crucial part of the world. The program will be in place at NDU for the next academic year, officials said.

I understand that the US believes Realpolitik requires that we pretend not to notice that Saudi Arabia is the state from which ISIS learns its behavior. And we all have to accept the fact that while we rend our garments over barbarity and "radical Islam" we simultaneously support the most barbarous, radical Islamic state. The state which spawned the notorious terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. This is the real world we live in here and as our great philosopher queen Ann Coulter pointed out, "we need oil."

But this ongoing lauding of the Saudi prince who just went to meet his harem of celestial virgins is a  farce. Just two weeks after virtually everyone in the nation proclaimed fundamentalist Islam the greatest danger the world faces today, after commentators scolded anyone who even mildly suggested that being sensitive to people's religious beliefs didn't translate into appeasement of evil, we have the highest reaches of the US Government extolling the home of Wahhabi Islam and our military is using it as an example of modernity in the middle east. It's completely absurd.

Nobody in this country or Europe sees this as anything unusual.  We're all used to hypocrisy about the superiority of our "values" and our morals. But one can only imagine what a crock our lectures sound like to Muslims around the world, particularly the majority moderates whom we are constantly exhorting to denounce the extremists. Americans may be too uninformed to understand how ludicrous this is but you can be sure that Muslims in the Middle East have no problem seeing just how inconsistent we are.  Somehow I don't think that's helping the cause.

The far right's hands across the water

by digby

I have a piece up at Salon today about some lines of convergence between the far right in Europe and the far right in America:
Europe’s far right has been vocal about all this for some time. And yes, their problems are different than ours. But we are now starting to see a similar impulse emerge in the U.S. as well, despite the fact that we managed to keep it somewhat at bay for nearly 15 years — at least as a matter of acceptable mainstream discourse, if not reality, for many individual Muslims caught in the government maw. We are certainly no strangers to xenophobia and nativism and this fits nicely into that niche for a lot of rank and file right-wingers. But this also fits into another niche that fueled the conservative movement for many decades — the original Threat From Within known as Communism. That paranoia, conflated with a free-floating fear of “the other” was one of the far right’s most successful organizing principles. And it’s that extremism that holds the real danger to our way of life if it once again finds its way into the conservative mainstream.

Islamic extremism and terrorism is a grave danger, no doubt about it. That it’s mostly a danger to fellow Muslims doesn’t seem to mitigate the West’s increasing hysteria about it. But America isn’t going to be instituting Shariah law or forcing women to wear veils any time soon. It might do some other things in reaction to that paranoia that are threatening to our way of life, however. We shouldn’t forget that when it comes to extremism, these are the people who openly celebrate it as a virtue.

Read on ...
Society's "trade-offs" in action

by digby

A libertarian explains America, the city on a hill:

End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay. We make such trade-offs all the time.
That's the actual headline. You see, the government doesn't force people to live in padded rooms to protect them from any danger, it allows people to go to work and drive cars and otherwise take risks. Therefore,  continuing a system in which vast numbers of people must go without health insurance because the for-profit insurance industry has no incentive to cover people who cost them money is no different. It's just another trade-off for freedom:
In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.
The government coercion involved in making people buy affordable insurance or pay a very tiny penalty is so burdensome that we must be willing to make the "trade-off" of people dying for lack of health care. It's a small price to pay for "individual liberty". Unless you're one of the dead people, in which case "society's trade-off" for more "choice" might not seem like such a good deal.

But we can always count on conservatives and libertarians to be eager to liberate us from our lives. It's what they do.

Anyway, this fine fellow is getting credit for an original idea. But we've heard this before haven't we?

That's society's "trade-off" in action. Makes you feel so free doesn't it?

QOTD: winning edition

by digby

And no, I'm not talking about Palin's rambling in Iowa. This is from Bobby Jindal at The Response, this past week-end's American Family Association's prayer rally for "a nation in crisis."
It is like God has given us the book of life. He doesn’t let us see the pages for today, tomorrow. He doesn’t promise us everything will go the way we want. He doesn’t promise you your sports team will win, or you’ll get the promotion at work. He doesn’t promise you you’re going to win the next election or that everything’s going to happen like you want.

“But he does let you see the last page in the book of life. And on the last page, our God wins.”
Ok, so the first part about the book is fine. God doesn't promise you a rose garden. But what in the world does "our God wins" mean? Is he saying that God is playing a game with us? Is God in competition with other Gods and at the end of the world, he will win? What exactly is on that last page? It sounds as if conservative Christianity is more akin to the Greek and Roman pagan beliefs, in which there were many Gods in perpetual battle with each other, than anything I learned in Sunday school.

The crowd reportedly went wild at this line so whatever it means, they like it.


Maybe night vision goggles?

by Tom Sullivan

The voter fraud frauds are at it again:

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Supporters and opponents of a Nebraska voter identification bill packed a public hearing Friday for a fierce debate over the measure.

The Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard heated arguments on a bill by Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill. The legislation would require voters to show a driver's license or state identification card at a polling place. Fifteen other states have such a law.


Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom testified in support of the measure, saying it protects the sanctity of the system and compared voter ID laws to a vaccination preventing polio.

Because America's Most Sanctimonious don't want their elections tainted by diseased Others — infected with too much poor, too much melanin, or too much not-one-of-us.

Talking with a newly minted ex-Republican over the weekend, I recounted attending a 2013 "boot camp" for training T-party sleuths how to purge voter rolls. I wrote at the time that,

... they emphasized the need for getting dead and inactive voters off the rolls because of the possibility of widespread voter fraud — or was it a widespread possibility? — for which they never seem to produce evidence. Basically, T-partiers are convinced that if they lose an election it must be because their opponents cheated. What else could it be? Zombies? Bigfoot?!

Much of the day focused on dead and inactive voters who remain on the rolls (by law) too long for the T-party's liking. So they employ crowd-sourced data-matching to get voters removed. Two women described perusing the MLS listings for homes for sale and foreclosures. Then they drive by, taking geocoded photos of the properties and any empty houses they find to prove to the local Board of Elections that people registered there no longer live there. They scour the daily obituaries for the freshly dead, then take the notices down to the local Board of Elections and try to have them removed from the voter rolls.

Of course, Board of Elections professionals could do all this with enough manpower and enough money from enough taxes ... oh, right.

Not once in seven hours, I told my new friend, did anyone suggest expanding the franchise or registering new voters and encouraging them to exercise their right to vote. It was utterly defensive, aimed at keeping the imagined, invisible hoards of THEM  from casting ballots.

Her eyes grew wide in shock as she said, "That's so sad."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The baby party has another tantrum

by digby

They have delicate feelings:
Soon after becoming House Speaker in 2011, Republican John Boehner started running the traps on inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. 
But when Barry Jackson, then Boehner’s chief-of-staff, checked with President Barack Obama’s top advisers, Jackson said he was left waiting a month only to get no response. Ultimately the Netanyahu speech went ahead in May but soon after Jackson faced the opposite problem: the White House had promised South Korea’s leadership an appearance before Congress, he said, without checking first with the speaker.

None of these slights justify what seems like payback now: Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu again, only this time without advising Obama or Democrats in Congress.

But the sequence of events does capture how much the normal courtesies between this White House and Congress have deteriorated — even in front of guests from another country.

“There appear to be no rules anymore. If you can do it, do it,” said Patrick Griffin, who recalls nothing quite like this even in the tempestuous times Griffin served as White House liaison between President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), herself a former speaker who oversaw similar joint meetings for foreign guests, said the management of the invitation was “inappropriate” and Boehner risks squandering his power in a fit of “hubris.”

Right. The Republicans have always acted like the mature grown-ups :

They always act like this.

A squabble in the fever swamps

by digby

A little fun on a lazy Sunday afternoon from TBOGG:

Good news, America!

Two of the most reprehensible people on the Internet — and that is not an exaggeration — are duking it out; revealing Breitbart family secrets, opening up old wounds, and saying things neither of them will ever regret saying because they are are the kind of people who will say anything for a website click and a buck because they are amoral soulless monsters.

Dana Loesch, –whom you may remember from her star turn on CNN saying she would like to pee on dead Muslims, because she is both measured in her responses and classy at the same time — has had it up to here with Chuck C. Johnson, ‘journalist,’ abortion-watcher, rape victim re-victimizer, and claimer of having ‘The Autism,’ which excuses all of his crimes against ethics in gaming journalism.

What should have been a private tête–à–tête between these two obvious soulmates who both previously worked at Andrew Breitbart’s Inland of Broken Toys That Nobody Wanted In The First Place, seems to have its genesis in Chuck outing Bible-n-gun toting American mom Holly Fisher.

According to our intrepid Chuck, Fisher seductively slipped the American flag from around her shoulders to engage in some All-American adultery-banging with a Tea Party dude while her soldier husband was keeping America free so that Chuck Johnson could 1st Amendment-report on her aforementioned adultery.

Nobody ever said that freedom of speech and the press wouldn’t get ugly from time to time.

This enraged conservatives who, you may remember, showed considerable restraint when Bill Clinton got a blow job that one time.

It was in all the papers, you should look it up.

Loesch took offense because she is BFF’s with her fellow gun/flag/Bible-toting sister in arms and unfollowed Johnson on Twitter — which is, like, 9/11 or Benghazi, or something maybe even worse. read on ...

It was inevitable that they'd start fighting among themselves. It's what people who are losing inevitably do.

And I know this because I am a liberal. BTDT... too many times to count. But these guys are so much more vicious. Of course they would be ...


Fast and furious on the taser trigger

by digby

Taser 'o the week:

It's not actually true that police are required to show three pieces of ID (I don't know where she got that idea) but that's not really the point. The point is that the guy asked a question and the police escalated in a matter of seconds, screaming and aiming their guns at him and tasering him when he wasn't being threatening. There was little reason for it. A bit of calm and common sense from the authorities could have avoided all of that.

They subsequently charged him with felonies, one for driving to a well lit spot rather than pulling over on the side of the dark highway (something I thought we were all supposed to do) and for allegedly attacking the police officers which is a charge they can apply to anyone they taser regardless of whether they were actually attacked. (I guess this is another one of those "I felt afraid" deals.)

I believe this is another example of the ongoing militarization of police. Unfortunately most American citizens have not yet been fully indoctrinated in the new reality in which their streets are considered a battleground and where the police are armed, paranoid combat troops who see all citizens as an enemy combatant until proven otherwise. They might even assume that when they put their hazard lights on and police pull them over it's not because they are criminal suspects. They might foolishly walk up and try to talk to them. They might even think it's ok to ask them for ID since the whole situation is kind of weird.

Someday they will have us well trained to accept that all our rights are suspended in the presence of police. We will know that we must obey their orders without question, submit completely, ask nothing and say nothing unless they ask us. They don't teach this in school but in America it's only after the fact that you may assert your rights --- at which point you can feel confident that no action will ever be taken against the police who violated them. Because they have a hard job and it's not for anyone to second guess their decisions in the moment.

But it's the thought that counts.

h/t @Chicago_Todd

I hope they don't mind the smell of Aquanet in that clown car

by digby

Donald Trump did a long interview on Fox this morning. He complained about people being overtaxed and the government being too big and then noted that when he goes to Europe he sees beautiful roads and highways and then comes home to potholes and crumbling infrastructure.

He announced that he's seriously considering running for president  ... and lamented that the whole world is laughing at America.

Where the people are

by digby

If half the people live in these blue shaded areas of the country can they really be called "elites"?

Using Census data, we've figured out that half of the United States population is clustered in just the 146 biggest counties out of over 3000.

Here's the map, with said counties shaded in. Below the map is the list of all the counties, so you can see if you live in one of them.

It's even more stark than it appears.  Within those counties the humans are clustered in even smaller areas.   These are what we call "cities" and contrary to popular myth, they are as "real" as the rest of America.

Sunday funnies

by digby

Bryan McFadden, NY Times:


Let me count the ways

by digby

So every Villager is frantically tweeting this allegedly brilliant quote from Lisa Murkowski this morning:
"I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska”
Perhaps Lisa Murkowski doesn't understand that Alaska is in the United States? And that the people of the United States (not to mention the world) have an interest in insuring that the arctic isn't degraded any faster than we are already degrading it?

Perhaps she also doesn't understand that Iran is not part of the United States? That it is a sovereign nation over which the president has no authority while he does have authority over the "sovereign state" of Alaska?

Here's the full quote (above link):
What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” said Murkowski, who spoke to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the department’s plan during a brief phone call Friday, in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. … I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
Here is the cognitive dissonance. More and more Alaskans, particularly of the Republican stripe, identify the federal government and pork-barrel spending as the enemy, although Alaska was built by both.

Alaska’s appetite for federal dollars has always been voracious and is not confined to the stimulus. A study by Prof. Scott Goldsmith of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, noted that an “extraordinary increase” in federal spending drove the state’s pile-driver growth of the last 15 years.

In 1996, federal spending in Alaska was 38 percent above the national average. Thanks to the late Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who was Senate appropriations chief for several years, and to the military, which keeps expanding its bases here, Alaska’s share now is 71 percent higher than the national average.

Some of this owes to the expense of serving Alaska’s rural reaches. But much is bred in the bone. The federal government carved this young state out of the northern wilderness, and officials here learn to manipulate federal budget levers at a tender age.

Still, many see strings attached. Lynn Gattis, a Republican Party official, lives by a lake in Wasilla, surrounded by aspens. She is a sourdough Alaskan, meaning she was born here, and she is a pilot, which means she threads her way around those cloud-hugging peaks. She knows that the federal government paid for the port of Anchorage and the highway that leads to Wasilla allowed Target and Sports Authority to take root.

But she sees a government that delays oil exploration, as President Obama did recently; that regulates timber and salmon harvests and hydropower; and that, in her view, cares more about polar bears than about Alaskans. (The government lists as endangered the beluga whales of Cook Inlet, a vast gray expanse that stretches out from Anchorage. Some Alaskans argue that this could stall construction of a multimillion-dollar bridge, which as it happens would be paid for by the federal government.)

“It just feels like the federal government intrudes everywhere,” Ms. Gattis said. “Enough Ivy League lawyers — let’s get people who can dig a mine and run a business.”

This sentiment baffles Tony Knowles, a long drink of a man who worked on the North Slope oil rigs before becoming the governor of Alaska in 1994 as a Democrat. He understands the frustration that comes with bumping into federal officials at each turn. But the trade-off is not so terrible, he notes, such as having the feds pay to put broadband in Alaskan villages.

“Nobody likes to have all their eggs in one basket, and so you do feel vulnerable,” he said. “But Ted Stevens, who was a Republican and beloved, was never shy about bringing money in.”

Some Alaskans have made a founding narrative of their grievance. “Before statehood, when a distant federal bureaucracy managed our resources, Alaskans experienced devastating economic effects,” Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, says on his Web site.

The historical record is a bit more complicated. Federal dollars, fishing and timber sustained Alaska until the discovery of oil in the 1960s. Victor Fischer, who helped write the state constitution in the 1950s, shrugs.

“There’s all this verbiage that says we’re the frontier, rough and ready,” says Mr. Fischer, lithe and sardonic in his mid-80s. “The Feds paid for everything, but the conflict runs through our history.”
Yep. They didn't build that.

The fact is that the Arctic is vital to the continued health of the planet. It needs to be protected. Too many Alaskans, sadly, aren't dedicated to being good stewards and would turn the whole place into a strip mine if it meant putting some temporary money into their pockets. So I have an idea. Let's just have the federal government pay every adult who was an Alaska resident as of January 1, 2015 50k a year tax free for ten years. That would probably make up for anything they'd make on some short term projects in the wildlife refuges or the Arctic ocean. I'd have zero problem with that and I'd guess the majority of Alaskans would be for it too. Unfortunately, it would preclude some of the big guns getting rich so there would still be mighty outcry. But considering the history of federal largesse to the state it would hardly be unprecedented.

Barbarous species

by digby

A local leader in Tanzania has been attacked and beheaded by a gang of men, who then cooked some of his body parts, police say.

The attack took place on Friday night in the southern Katavi region of the east African nation, local police chief Dhahiri Kidavashari said, naming the dead man as 31-year-old Richard Madirisha.

Police said there had been local reports accusing Mr Madirisha of adultery.

"Five people stormed Madirisha's room wielding machetes, beheaded him, chopped off legs, hands and genitals," Mr Kidavashari said on Sunday.

"The assailants later cooked the chopped off body parts outside the house," he added.

Also too:

Magu (Tanzania) (AFP) - It was a hyena that killed the boy, but four elderly women got the blame. Villagers slashed them with machetes then set fire to their bodies for casting spells on the wild animal.

"They cut her with machetes," said Sufia Shadrack, the daughter of one of the murdered women in her small village in Tanzania's northern Mwanza district. "Then they took firewood, mattresses, an iron sheet and burned her like you would cook fish or meat."

In Tanzania, hundreds of people are killed each year accused of being witches.

Like Shadrack's mother, many victims are elderly, vulnerable or marginalised -- or own property that greedy relatives seize after accusing of witchcraft.

But while some are killed falsely accused of black magic, others are murdered by the "sorcerers" themselves: scores of people with albinism have been killed and their body parts cooked up for spells.

I don't really have any larger point in writing about this except to point out that the world is full of barbarity.

Michael Smerconish is filling in for Candy Crowley today and told White House national security advisor that his callers are hysterical right now, worried that the world has hit a "tipping point" --- that we are spinning out of control. McDonough said that this isn't really true that it only seems that way because the worlds most "nefarious actors" can disseminate their cruel acts. That is undoubtedly true. But the dissemination of these cruel acts can also serve the agendas of a number of different actors. There are always people who are eager to take advantage of the opportunities that hysteria provides.


Gonna soak up the sums

by Tom Sullivan

If nothing else, Sarah Palin's "bizarro" speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend warmed up the crowd for the real cowboys.

But even as Republican presidential wannabes tried to out-right each other in Iowa, the people who count most in this country — those with the most to count — held their annual donors' summit at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Rancho Mirage, CA. John Nichols, writing for The Nation:

“Americans used to think Iowa and New Hampshire held the first caucus and primary in the nation every four years. Not anymore,” explains Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “Now the ‘Koch brothers primary’ goes first to determine who wins the blessing and financial backing of the billionaire class. This is truly sad and shows us how far Citizens United has gone to undermine American democracy.”

Sanders was referencing the five-year-old US Supreme Court ruling that struck down barriers to corporate spending to buy elections—one of a series of decisions that have dramatically increased the influence of not just of corporations but of billionaires like the Koch brothers.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida chose not to attend the Iowa event, instead reserving their time for supplication at the Koch brothers' event, along with another unofficial 2016 presidential contender, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker:

An hourlong panel discussion featuring U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida will take place at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. [PST, presumably]

ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl will moderate it, and the network will livestream part of it.

Perhaps Cruz will again repeat the Churchill's bust nonsense as he did again in Iowa on Saturday. Debunked three years ago? No obstacle in this alternate universe.

Update: More detail on bustgate.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Family values

by digby

She seems nice.

Meanwhile, here's some salad:

Cruel and unusual

by digby

Ritualized state executions of this sort are barbaric too:

On Thursday, Richard Glossip will be put to death for a crime he says he didn't commit.

The 51-year-old former motel manager has spent more than 17 years on Oklahoma's death row for a murder conviction. He's maintained his innocence from the start and plans to fight for his life until the end, but he says he knows that realistically he may not live past January 29. Among U.S. states, only Texas has executed more people than Oklahoma...

The 51-year-old has been on death row ever since he was convicted of first-degree murder nearly 17 years ago on the testimony of a single witness. Glossip has maintained his innocence from the start, and now he's hoping that a last-minute reprieve from Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) -- or the White House -- can spare him from becoming the 196th person to be put to death by the state of Oklahoma.

Justin Sneed, a young contract handyman who worked and lived at the Best Budget Inn that Glossip managed in Oklahoma City, confessed to beating motel owner Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat on Jan. 7, 1997. Prosecutors said Glossip feared losing his job and recruited Sneed to kill his boss. Sneed would later testify that Glossip promised him $10,000 to commit the crime. Both men were convicted of first-degree murder. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed received a life sentence without parole; Glossip received a death sentence.

A judge told Glossip that if he admitted his involvement in Van Treese's death, he would be sentenced to life in prison and eligible for parole in 20 years. Glossip said he refused to perjure himself by admitting to something he didn't do.

I'm against capital punishment for all the usual reasons. But the idea that someone can be executed solely on the word of someone who actually perpetrated the violence and who got a reduced sentence in return for his testimony is absolutely mind-boggling.

Dispatch from King's ring kissing ceremony

by digby

Byron York gives his informed take on Iowa and the state of the GOP primary at the moment. There's lots to think about, most of it really disturbing. First, they like Chris Christie because he's a "fighter." This doesn't surprise me. As long as he sticks it to liberals, particularly if he is willing to take on the Beyotch the way he takes on schoolteachers who question him, there are a whole lot of conservatives who will forgive any previous apostasy. That's what they live for. And not just Iowa conservatives. In fact, over Christmas I had California relatives all telling me how much they love Christie for telling voters to "sit down and shut up."

Then there's this:
Foreign policy has become as important as social issues, and that means people will listen to John Bolton.
Did I mention it was disturbing? How about this?:

You know what Bobby Jindal said about Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe, a statement that resulted in Jindal being criticized and mocked by mainstream commentators? It turns out many social conservatives in Iowa really liked it. To them, Jindal was warning about the danger of enclaves of unassimilated Muslim populations in an age of Islamic radicalism, a problem they fear could be in store for the United States. Jindal, who is himself the model of an assimilated American from an immigrant family, not only did not suffer from his remarks but instead benefited from them.

So Fox News really is to the left of the GOP base now. Dear God.

There's lot's of interesting analysis in this article and I urge you to read it.  We are going to be in for quite a ride.

Is Fox News on drugs?

by digby

I don't know what's going on over at Fox News but there seems to be a tear in the matrix. You already know about their profuse apologies for suggesting that Europe is riddled with "no-go" zones where Sharia law is practiced and the state has no influence. And Rupert Murdoch himself had to back track for saying that moderate Muslims are responsible for Islamic extremism. Since when do they give a damn about insulting Europeans or Muslims? That's part of their business model.

But what in the hell is this?
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace slammed Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu over his upcoming trip to the U.S. to deliver a speech to a joint sitting of Congress on March 3 – an invitation extended by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, and in violation of diplomatic protocol. It is the White House, not Congress, which usually invites world leaders to visit the country.

The invitation has been interpreted as an attempt by Netanyahu and his Republican allies to push through more Iran sanctions – a move that Obama has warned will damage the nuclear negotiations taking place with the Islamic Republic. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday that they will not meet Netanyahu during his U.S. trip because of the close proximity to the Israeli elections.

These are all foreign policy and national security topics so perhaps Fox is just trying to tame the crazies a little bit so they don't accidentally blow up the world. But it seems unlikely. This stuff is their bread and butter. What's going on?

Watch the video.  You will be surprised.  Keep going to the end for the truly surreal conclusion... somebody clearly slipped some ecstasy into the coffee ....

How do we tell which ones are the good guys with guns again?

by digby

It's gets so confusing when they let black people carry guns just like white people:

A surveillance video from a Walmart located near Tampa shows 62-year-old Clarence Daniels trying to enter the store to purchase some coffee creamer for his wife this past Tuesday. He barely steps through the automatic doors before he is pummeled by shopper Michael Foster, a 43-year-old white man.

"He's got a gun!" Foster shouts, to which Daniels replies, "I have a permit!"

According to local news reports, Foster originally spotted Daniels in the store's parking lot placing his legally owned handgun underneath his coat. In keeping with Florida's well-known vigilante spirit, Foster decided to take matters into his own hands by following Daniels into the Walmart. Without warning, he tackled Daniels and placed him in a chokehold.

Police soon arrived and confirmed Daniels indeed had a permit for the handgun.

I'm very sure that he would have done exactly the same thing if he'd noticed a white man with a concealed handgun going into Walmart. Of course he would have.

On the other hand, Daniels should be happy that Foster didn't just shoot him down. He could have. And he could have gotten away with it if he could have convinced the cops that he feared for his life. And the gun proliferation zealots would have called him one of the "good guys."

Exercising 2nd Amendment rights doesn't mean you won't get your hair mussed. A few thousand innocent people getting shot every year is a small price to pay so that some people can carry lethal weapons around in public for no good reason. It's how we keep ourselves safe from tyranny. Apparently.

QOTD: pleaseohpleaseohplease

by digby

The clown car wouldn't be complete without her:

“Without putting any words in my mouth, you can absolutely say that I’m seriously interested,” said Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, in the lobby of the Marriott late Friday night.


The Dickens, you say?

By Tom Sullivan

As Digby said yesterday, they will never quit trying to dismantle the social safety net. Both here and abroad, it seems, we've gotta keep those "takers" from taking. They are somehow keeping our "Makers" from making. (Genuflect here.)

It seems the British have set up a system of sanctions to keep the eligible jobless from receiving help. And, boy howdy, you thought Fox News' obsession over the grocery shopping habits of Americans receiving SNAP benefits was Dickensian. Check out the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the land of Dickens:

“A Ukip parliamentary candidate named Lynton Yates this week suggested banning benefit claimants from driving: “Why do they have the privilege to spend the tax payers [sic] hard earned money on a car, when those in work are struggling to keep their own car on the road?” Ukip’s communications people said that Yates’s suggestions were “not Ukip policies and they will not form part of the Ukip manifesto”, and the media rejoiced in the week’s example of the party’s supposed fruitcakery – though at the time of writing, Mr Yates was still Ukip’s choice for the East Midlands seat of Charnwood.

But the problem isn’t his, or Ukip’s, alone. After all, in the sense that he proposed stripping “benefit claimants” of something most people take for granted, Yates’s plans merely sat on the outer edge of what now passes for mainstream thinking. When the state makes it clear that the poor and unfortunate are not to have spare bedrooms, and embraces the idea of stopping them buying booze and fags and shredding their entitlements if they have more than two kids, is it really such a leap to deny them non-public transport too? For all its inanity, there is a sadism at the heart of the Yates idea that is not a million miles away from the cruelties increasingly built into the benefits system: cruelties most of us would not put up with for a minute, but which are visited on thousands of people every week.

Can't let them breed, now, can we? Because "nits make lice."

UKIP issued a statement to clarify that Yates' pamphlet containing these suggestions was not a joke or a hoax:

On the topic of the cost of keeping criminals in prison, it continued: "I personally would look to overseas countries who could tender for their incarceration.

"I'm sure they could dramatically reduce this cost to the taxpayer."

And, no doubt, decrease the surplus prison population.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Because you need this

by digby

It's been a long week and I think we could all use a drink and baby pygmy hippo right about now:

Who was it who compared Ted Cruz to Joe McCarthy?

by digby

He adamantly denies the resemblance, much to Ann Coulter's dismay.


Two arch-conservatives unveiled legislation on Friday to revoke the U.S. citizenship of anyone who seeks to join a group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Expatriate Terrorist Act, offered by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), amends the Immigration and Nationality Act so as to deny an American passport to — or strip the existing citizenship of — an individual

whom the Secretary has determined is a member, or is attempting to become a member, of an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist pursuant to section 12 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 13 U.S.C. 1189).
"I believe these American terrorists have voluntarily renounced their citizenship upon taking an oath to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO)," King said in a statement.

In a sign that the legislation has legs in Congress, it is co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy.

In case you are wondering why this is considered necessary, I'm guessing it's so that they can deny Americans their rights under the constitution. I would hope that it isn't possible to do this before they are convicted of anything (under the constitution) but once they are, I guess they could be sent to Guantanamo after President Huckabee expands it.

Anyway, God bless the USA.


They will never quit

by digby

With a fight over Social Security brewing in the new Republican Congress, advocates are worried that a possible GOP angle is to turn Social Security into a perennial crisis in much the same way raising the debt limit has become. By setting up a series of forcing events, the argument goes, Republicans would be able to create an ongoing crisis atmosphere around Social Security that would create a pretext for dramatic changes to the 80-year-old program.

As TPM has documented, the House passed a rule on the first day of the new Congress that prohibited the routine transfer of tax revenue between Social Security's retirement and disability funds, the latter of which will stop being able to make full benefit payments starting in late 2016. The transfer, known as reallocation, has been done under Democratic and Republican administrations multiple times in the past, most recently in 1994, but the new House rule forbids it unless it is accompanied by measures that improve the overall solvency of Social Security.

House Republicans have been transparent about their intentions of using the new rule to force a debate on changes to the program, while advocates and Democrats warned that the rule could lead to benefit cuts. But there is another possibility: Republicans could pass a short-term reallocation that would set up another shortfall a few years down the road -- and one that could arrive under a new Republican president.

It would in theory turn Social Security reallocation into something akin to the debt ceiling of the last few years: A formerly routine accounting move that the GOP is now trying to use as a leverage point to advance conservative proposals. Advocates told TPM that it was a scenario they were taking seriously.

"Just as with the debt limit, Congress could require regular short-term action, keeping a climate of crisis and requiring new legislation frequently," Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, told TPM. Advocates are pushing for a clean reallocation, which is projected to keep both funds solvent until 2033.
And remember, these deficit fetishists are always wrong about everything:

August 28, 1996

CHICAGO - Sen. Bob Kerrey smells an odor coming from the Republican and Democratic stands on entitlements.

"It's one of the cruelest things we do, when we say, Republicans or Democrats, `Oh, we can wait and reform Social Security later,' " the Nebraska Democrat said.

Mr. Kerrey says that without reform, entitlements will claim 100 percent of the Treasury in 2012.

"This is not caused by liberals, not caused by conservatives, but by a simple demographic fact," Mr. Kerrey warned at a meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council.

"We [will have] converted the federal government into an ATM machine."

Yes, that is a Democrats saying that. And there are plenty of them today who believe the same nonsense. At some point I have no doubt that the GOP will wear them down and train them to reflexively give in rather than undergo repeated crises. They are Pavlov's dogs. And Pavlov wants some of that social security money for his portfolio.

They finally cracked the internet

by digby

It took them a while, but they did it:
In the last four years, ForAmerica has quietly amassed what it likes to call a "digital army" on Facebook—a force that that now numbers more than 7 million. The group's spectacular growth can be explained in part by the paid acquisition of its members through targeted advertising. But thanks to a daily stream of savvy and snackable red-meat messaging, these mercenaries have become loyal conservative digital soldiers whose engagement is attracting new recruits. These days, a routine post on ForAmerica's page reaches more than 2 million people, achieves more than 100,000 "likes," and has tens of thousands of people repost and comment. 
But shutting down the White House switchboard this summer was just a warm-up act. Bozell and his father, Brent Bozell, the group's chairman and a fixture in the hard-liner wing of GOP politics, have been positioning their troops for a bigger battle: policing the 2016 Republican presidential race. 
"Anybody who runs as a conservative," Brent Bozell declared, "is going to have to satisfy our army." 
Already, the Bozells have proved willing—if not eager—to direct their army's rage against fellow Republicans. They jammed the lines of Mitch McConnell's campaign office in the final days of his crucial reelection contest, accusing the senator of sounding wobbly on repealing Obamacare. Just last week ForAmerica urged its members to dial up House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and demand he toe the conservative line on immigration. These pressure campaigns are orchestrated by the Bozells, but executed by their group's excitable, activist base.
For a long time the left was way ahead of the right on the internet. And I'd guess they still are in some respects. But there was no way the right wouldn't figure out how to harness the grassroots through this new medium. They were the ones who invented direct mail, which built the conservative movement over decades.

And whatever medium they use, they are extremely good at getting their message across to their base and keeping them active and engaged. They changed the face of American politics.

Guess who set the little landmine called the "subsidy clawback"?

by digby

Brian Beutler makes an excellent argument in this piece that the Republicans knew very well that the ACA anticipated that states would use a federal exchange, the basis of the ridiculous suit before the Supreme Court called Burwell vs King. It has to do with the subsidy clawback that I and other have been complaining about and which we are going to hear a lot more about once people sit down to do their taxes.

I somehow missed the fact that this wasn't in the original ACA but was rather a 2011 proposal by the House Republicans --- a proposal with which the Democrats ended up agreeing and which the president signed. WTF!

Here's a contemporaneous account from CJR:

The health reform law, aka the Affordable Care Act, took a hit last week. Many journos, though, were apparently snoozing. In a talk at the annual meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Washington and Lee University law professor Timothy Jost revealed that the president had just signed a bill giving the business community a present it had been wanting in the worst way. The much-despised 1099 form reporting requirements to the IRS were finally gone. What does that have to do with health reform, you might ask? It means, said Jost, “Many Americans are going to be shocked to discover when they figure up their taxes at the end of the year that what they thought was a grant was in fact a loan.”

It seems that when the reform law was moving through Congress, lawmakers needed to raise revenue to pay for the subsidies that millions of the uninsured will receive to buy health policies come 2014. They had to do that without overtly raising taxes so they settled on a plan that would require firms to report transactions totaling at least $600 a year paid for goods and services. The idea was to capture unreported tax revenue—estimated at some $22 billion—that could be used to pay for the subsidies.

Businesses howled and ran to Congress where Dems and Republicans alike agreed the reporting requirements were too onerous—too much paperwork, and one of the “tweaks” began winding its way through the legislative process. To get rid of the reporting rules, legislators had to find additional money to make up for the revenue they had counted on from the 1099 reporting requirement. Where did they find it? You guessed it —from those who would receive the subsidies in the first place. As part of the same bill, Congress required those receiving subsidies to pay back any extra subsidies resulting from changes in income. What Congress gives, it can also take away.

Jost explained to reporters that the government will pay subsidies to insurers in advance each month, based on past and estimated future income. But the day of reckoning comes at the end of the year when the government will want to know if it overpaid on someone’s behalf. And that can easily happen. Said Jost:

Income is often unstable in low income families. A person may work 40 hours one week, 20 or none at all the next. Projecting income over a year is very difficult. A person may lose or secure a reasonably well paid job half way through the year, making household income look very different on April 15 than when the benefits were received.

A family with an income around $67,000—about 300 percent of the federal poverty level—who has a child move out of the house halfway through the year, could end up owing up to $2500 on tax day.
Jost offered other observations for reporters writing about health reform—and for the public, too. The reform law ends the insurance practice of checking up on your health when you apply for a policy and refusing to issue a policy to people who have expensive health conditions.

Insurance will thus cost more for the healthy and less for the unhealthy. What people pay will also be related to their age. Most of the time older people will pay more than younger ones. But in general, Jost said: “Premiums are likely to be quite costly for those who do not receive premium assistance,” he said. In fact, he added, “premiums will go up significantly” for those who don’t qualify for subsidies. A bad omen!

So these rising costs and the clawbacks are tied together. This bundle has been one of the most underreported stories in the whole health care discussion.

And we expect that the Democrats will do anything in their power to maintain what's left of the integrity of the ACA? Jesus, they didn't even fight this in the very beginning, and the president, whose name is attached to it, signed on the thing. Who needs the Supreme Court?

The other problem is that the exchanges didn't say much about this last year. And if they had, people would have looked much more closely at the real cost of their insurance policy in order to gauge how much they might owe if they had to pay back the subsidy. This makes it risky for a fair number of people to participate fully in the program and get the best insurance available to them. What you end up doing is buying the cheapest policy regardless of the subsidy, because you are afraid of how much will owe the government if you make a mistake or do better financially than you expected to do.

I can easily see why the wily Republicans wanted to do this. It's a little bit more mysterious as to why the Democrats did. Stupid or dishonest? You decide.


"A nation of infantilized yahoos"

by digby

This piece about the Patriots and their balls is why I've always thought Charles Pierce is one of the best writers in America. He never, ever, ever falls for the bullshit.

I'm so glad the whole nation is in an uproar over the integrity of the NFL and the sport of football. If we burn someone at the stake over this monumental scandal perhaps they will show some concern about the epidemic of head injuries and domestic abuse. Baby steps ...

*And no, I'm not a Patriots fan making excuses. I'm a 49ers fan. (So shoot me ..;)

Laying it on a little thick don't you think?

by digby

Of course the Saudi government has only beheaded 15 people so far in 2015, so I guess all the plaudits are appropriate:

The US government isn't the only allegedly civilized Western nation to be lugubriously eulogizing the King of Saudi Arabia today. They all are.

Think about that the next time somebody lectures you about failing to understand the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.


Are we not Ubermen?

by Tom Sullivan

Those using the Gregorian calendar count the years since the birth of Christ as Anno Domini, A.D. Bullshit is probably a lot older. But given that it's a new millennium, maybe it's time we started counting the years in A.B. “One of the most salient features of our culture,” as Aaron Hanlon quotes philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Salon, “is that there is so much bullshit.”

Case in point. In its obsession with turning everything on this planet into the Precious (other planets will come later), the Midas cult has turned its sights on sleep because “sleep is the enemy of capital.” Thus, sleep must be abolished. From caffeine-laced Red Bull to topical sprays to marshmallows, “perky jerky,” and military experiments with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), Newsweek  looks at how we are waging the war on sleep:

For those looking to sleep less without drugs or military tech, there’s the “Uberman” sleep schedule: 20 minute naps taken every four hours. That’s just two hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Uberman is based on the theory that while humans experience two types of sleep, we only need one of those to stay alive. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the stage in which we dream, and it also has been shown in lab tests to be critical to survival: Rodents deprived of REM sleep die after just five weeks. Then there is non-REM sleep, which itself is broken down into four separate stages. One of those is short wave sleep (or SWS). Scientists aren’t really sure what function SWS serves, and Uberman advocates argue that it may not be critical to survival at all.

We spend only 20 percent of our sleeping time in REM sleep, and, usually, we need to work our way up to it, going through non-REM sleep first. But according to the Polyphasic Society, a segmented-sleep advocacy group, that’s a waste. They say the Uberman and sleep schedules like it can force the brain to reconfigure its sleep cycle to avoid the non-REM sleep and jump straight into REM, saving a handful of precious, precious hours every day. The disadvantage? Physical stress, even to the point of lifting heavy objects, can cause Uberman sleepers to unexpectedly “black out.”

That's nice.

In service to the Midas cult, Americans are working over a month more per year than they did in 1970, Newsweek  reports, "137 hours longer than the Japanese, 260 hours longer than the British and 446 hours longer than the Germans, according to a report put out by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization." And looking for ways to work even longer hours with even less sleep. Because, Betsy Isaacson writes, "Sleep is perceived to be the enemy of efficiency..."

And why? Because any human inefficiency, anything not critical to (some humans') survival, anything that stands in the way of converting every human relationship, every human emotion, every waking hour (or unconscious hour, if that can be arranged) into the Precious must be eradicated.

Can you say pathological? Sure, I knew you could.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The grown ups are definitely back in charge. Unfortunately they're morons.

by digby

I apologize to future generations for this irresponsible circus. There's just no excuse for this:

Addressing his Senate colleagues before the vote, Inhofe once again cited the Bible to argue that the climate does indeed change but that humans aren't the cause. "Climate is changing, and climate has always changed," said Inhofe, who chairs the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. "There's archeological evidence of that. There's biblical evidence of that. There's historic evidence of that." He continued: "The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful, they can change climate. Man can't change climate." You can watch the back-and-forth above.

And with that, every Republican except Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), voted "aye." The amendment passed 98-1, and the Senate was on record agreeing to the obvious fact that climate change sometimes occurs.

But they weren't done. Next, Republicans brought up their own climate amendment, which stated that climate change is indeed "real" and that human activity "contributes" to it. This amendment got 59 votes (one short of the 60-vote threshold for passage), but just 15 of the chamber's 54 Republicans supported it.

And of course, the scientific consensus isn't merely that human activity "contributes" to climate change. Rather, scientists say that humans are the "dominant cause" of the recent warming. That was the subject of a third amendment, from Democrat Brian Schatz (Hawaii), which stated that human activity "significantly contributes" to climate change. That was too much for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who objected specifically to the word "significantly." Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, urged her colleagues to vote no. In the end, Schatz's amendment received just 50 votes, and only five of those came from Republicans.

This is an embarrassing. Humiliating really. The leaders of the free world are cretinous imbeciles.



by digby

This was essentially a political trial designed to scare the bezeejuz out of anyone who goes anywhere near Anonymous.
A court in Dallas has sentenced Barrett Brown to 63 months in federal prison, minus 28 months already served. For count one in the case, he receives 48 months. For count 2, he receives 12 months. And for count 3, he receives 3 months. He is also ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution.

The government's charges against the intelligence and security reporter stemmed from his relationship with sources close to the hacker group Anonymous, and the fact that Brown published a link to publicly-available copies of leaked Stratfor documents.

Brown read a statement to the court during the sentencing hearing, and you can read that statement in entirety here.

"Journalists are especially vulnerable right now, Your Honor, and they become more so when the FBI feels comfortable making false claims about them," Brown wrote:

Deny being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, and you’re still a spokesperson for Anonymous. Deny being a journalist once or twice, and you’re not a journalist. What conclusion can one draw from this sort of reasoning other than that you are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment. This is not the “rule of law”, Your Honor, it is the “rule of law enforcement”, and it is very dangerous.

From our earlier coverage:
Among the secrets exposed were collaborative efforts between the government and private contractors to monitor social networks, and to develop online surveillance systems.

Brown, 33, was arrested in 2012 after his and his mothers' homes were raided and he used "threatening" language toward FBI officers in a response posted to YouTube. He was subsequently accused of working with the hackers whose efforts yielded a huge tranche of embarrassing and revealing information concerning misbehavior and sleaze at U.S. government contractors.

Among the charges was the claim that merely linking to the leaked information was illegal—an alleged crime for which prosecutors sought decades in prison and which roused the interest of press freedom groups.

Hacking is one thing. It's not the same a linking to publicly available documents. And yet he was convicted of doing that.

In case you don't recall what that "collaborative effort" was, Lee Fang's story in the Nation hits the highlights of the plan. And this story, also in the Nation spells out Brown's role in exposing it. (Read the beginning of it to get a sense of who Brown was --- a satirist/journalist in the Hunter S Thompson mold.)

This is the story in a nutshell:

In February 2011, a year after Brown penned his defense of Anonymous, and against the background of its actions during the Arab Spring, Aaron Barr, CEO of the private intelligence company HBGary, claimed to have identified the leadership of the hacktivist collective. (In fact, he only had screen names of a few members). Barr’s boasting provoked a brutal hack of HBGary by a related group called Internet Feds (it would soon change its name to “LulzSec”). Splashy enough to attract the attention of The Colbert Report, the hack defaced and destroyed servers and websites belonging to HBGary. Some 70,000 company e-mails were downloaded and posted online. As a final insult to injury, even the contents of Aaron Barr’s iPad were remotely wiped.

The HBGary hack may have been designed to humiliate the company, but it had the collateral effect of dropping a gold mine of information into Brown’s lap. One of the first things he discovered was a plan to neutralize Glenn Greenwald’s defense of Wikileaks by undermining them both. (“Without the support of people like Glenn, wikileaks would fold,” read one slide.) The plan called for “disinformation,” exploiting strife within the organization and fomenting external rivalries—“creating messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization,” as well as a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error.” Greenwald, it was argued, “if pushed,” would “choose professional preservation over cause.”

Other plans targeted social organizations and advocacy groups. Separate from the plan to target Greenwald and WikiLeaks, HBGary was part of a consortia that submitted a proposal to develop a “persona management” system for the United States Air Force, that would allow one user to control multiple online identities for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grassroots support or opposition to certain policies.

The data dump from the HBGary hack was so vast that no one person could sort through it alone. So Brown decided to crowdsource the effort. He created a wiki page, called it ProjectPM, and invited other investigative journalists to join in. Under Brown’s leadership, the initiative began to slowly untangle a web of connections between the US government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and information security consultants.

One connection was between Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce. WikiLeaks had claimed to possess a large cache of documents belonging to Bank of America. Concerned about this, Bank of America approached the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ directed it to the law and lobbying firm Hunton and Williams, which does legal work for Wells Fargo and General Dynamics and also lobbies for Koch Industries, Americans for Affordable Climate Policy, Gas Processors Association, Entergy among many other firms. The DoJ recommended that Bank of America hire Hunton and Williams, explicitly suggesting Richard Wyatt as the person to work with. Wyatt, famously, was the lead attorney in the Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit against the Yes Men.

In November 2010, Hunton and Williams organized a number of private intelligence, technology development and security contractors—HBGary, plus Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and, according to Brown, a secretive corporation with the ominous name Endgame Systems—to form “Team Themis”—‘themis’ being a Greek word meaning “divine law.” Its main objective was to discredit critics of the Chamber of Commerce, like Chamber Watch, using such tactics as creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to “prove that US Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.” In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to infiltrate Chamber Watch. They would “create two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.” The leaked e-mails showed that similar disinformation campaigns were being planned against WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald.

It was clear to Brown that these were actions of questionable legality, but beyond that, government contractors were attempting to undermine Americans’ free speech—with the apparent blessing of the DOJ. A group of Democratic congressmen asked for an investigation into this arrangement, to no avail.

By June 2011, the plot had thickened further. The FBI had the goods on the leader of LulzSec, one Hector Xavier Monsegur, who went under the nom de guerre Sabu. The FBI arrested him on June 7, 2011, and (according to court documents) turned him into an informant the following day. Just three days before his arrest, Sabu had been central to the formation of a new group called AntiSec, which comprised his former LulzSec crew members, as well as members as Anonymous. In early December AntiSec hacked the website of a private security company called Stratfor Global Intelligence. On Christmas Eve, it released a trove of some 5 million internal company e-mails. AntiSec member and Chicago activist Jeremy Hammond has pled guilty to the attack and is currently facing ten years in prison for it.

The contents of the Stratfor leak were even more outrageous than those of the HBGary hack. They included discussion of opportunities for renditions and assassinations. For example, in one video, Statfor’s vice president of intelligence, Fred Burton, suggested taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to render Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who had been released from prison on compassionate grounds due to his terminal illness. Burton said that the case “was personal.” When someone pointed out in an e-mail that such a move would almost certainly be illegal—“This man has already been tried, found guilty, sentenced…and served time”—another Stratfor employee responded that this was just an argument for a more efficient solution: “One more reason to just bugzap him with a hellfire. :-)”

(Stratfor employees also seemed to take a keen interest in Jeremy Scahill’s writings about Blackwater in The Nation, copying and circulating entire articles, with comments suggesting a principle interest was in the question of whether Blackwater was setting up a competing intelligence operation. E-mails also showed grudging respect for Scahill: “Like or dislike Scahill’s position (or what comes of his work), he does an amazing job outing [Blackwater].”)

When the contents of the Stratfor leak became available, Brown decided to put ProjectPM on it. A link to the Stratfor dump appeared in an Anonymous chat channel; Brown copied it and pasted it into the private chat channel for ProjectPM, bringing the dump to the attention of the editors.

Brown began looking into Endgame Systems, an information security firm that seemed particularly concerned about staying in the shadows. “Please let HBGary know we don’t ever want to see our name in a press release,” one leaked e-mail read. One of its products, available for a $2.5 million annual subscription, gave customers access to “zero-day exploits”—security vulnerabilities unknown to software companies—for computer systems all over the world. Business Week published a story on Endgame in 2011, reporting that “Endgame executives will bring up maps of airports, parliament buildings, and corporate offices. The executives then create a list of the computers running inside the facilities, including what software the computers run, and a menu of attacks that could work against those particular systems.” For Brown, this raised the question of whether Endgame was selling these exploits to foreign actors and whether they would be used against computer systems in the United States. Shortly thereafter, the hammer came down.

The FBI acquired a warrant for Brown’s laptop, gaining the authority to seize any information related to HBGary, Endgame Systems, Anonymous and, most ominously, “email, email contacts, ‘chat’, instant messaging logs, photographs, and correspondence.” In other words, the FBI wanted his sources.

At that point the FBI put the squeeze on Brown's mother and Brown "snapped" going on youtube and making a stupid video that threatened the FBI and that was that. (Another episode of "When smart people do dumb things" ...)

But what's most interesting to me about this story is that nobody cares about what was revealed in the HBGary documents. I doubt that more than a handful of people are even aware of them. I find that a bit mind-boggling.

Meanwhile Barrett Brown has been in jail already for years awaiting trial. And he's going to stay in for quite a lot longer.

I hope I live long enough to see how this is treated in historical terms. It certainly looks like injustice at the moment.

Here's Barret Brown's statement at his sentencing.


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