Journalism

Better local news ahead — at Gannett papers? Really?

Gannett returns to its TV-model origins to revitalize revenue, reporting quality

What? Better local news coverage at Gannett Inc.’s 80-plus newspapers? Seriously? And they’re hiring more reporters, and good ones at that? Huh? Print revenue is still declining but Gannett is investing in quality?

That’s the portrait Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston paints of Gannett’s attempts to revitalize both USA Today and its chain of dailies nationwide.

The McLean, VA, newspaper and broadcast chain has begun inserting national and international news sections carrying the USA Today brand into some of its local dailies. The move, designed to emulate the audience-and-revenue building power of network TV, has already dramatically boosted circulation at Gannett’s flagship paper (albeit under new, looser accounting rules), while giving the local papers a polished new look and better, more uniform national and international coverage. Continue reading

Obama-Nope

State of the Union Address – rebuttal from the easy chair

If there’s anything better than screaming at football or rasslin’ on the tee vee, it’s throwing fits at political speeches.

First things first. The Onion captured my evening just about perfectly, except I’m not a dad.

I went into tonight’s State of the Union address with the usual trepidation. First, there were Robert Reich’s words via Facebook earlier in the day:

WHAT OBAMA WON’T SAY TODAY. The State of the Union is abysmal. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

WordsDay: Smithson’s gift to America, i.e., the know nothings: knowledge…

Do something smart in America and we’ll never put you on a piece of money…

The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh (image courtesy Goodreads)

 The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum is likely to cause many a thoughtful American  to spend some time wondering what in the hell America has ever been about, besides money and politics. This concise and highly readable book about the founding of the Smithsonian Institution takes on a puzzling and remarkable little piece of American history: why did the illegitimate son of an English duke who never married and whose career was spent as a “gentleman scientist” exploring obscure mineralogical questions, decide to donate his entire fortune (some $50 million in current money) to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of Knowledge among men.”

The truth is, he didn’t, exactly. Smithson’s bequest came to America because of “a series of unfortunate events” that included the unexpected and premature death of his sole heir, a nephew who was the illegitimate son of his brother, another illegitimate son of that same English duke and both James Smithson’s and his brother Henry Dickinson’s mother, one of the duke’s mistresses. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Black Thursday

Thanksgiving is now Black Thursday and Black Friday is upon us: what should America not be thankful for?

The nation gives thanks … for what?

I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.

First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading

Image (1) TXGOPF.jpg for post 45555

What 19th Amendment?

It’s a trend lately, that if a party is afraid of losing an election, they pass legislation barring key groups in their opponents’ base from voting. And clearly, it’s something Texas has taken to heart. Right after Wendy Davis declared that she was running for governor, Texas Republicans set out to disenfranchise women from voting, 19th Amendment be damned.

And the way they’re keeping ladies out of the voting booth it is a doozy.

Continue reading

Surprise! US government actually shuts down.

One of the more surreal aspects of the current government shutdown is the fact that the people responsible for shutting down the government appear to be very surprised that the government has, you know, actually shut down. So last week we had the spectacle of some Congressmen re-opening Arlington Cemetery after it had closed, and of one (Texas, of course) Congressman yelling at a National Park employee as if the shutdown were her fault. Some Congressmen appear surprised that they would be asked to give up their paychecks just because government workers aren’t being paid. Continue reading

PoliticsLawGovernment4

I hate to say it, but the GOP is right

I hope you didn’t sprain anything or break anything irreplaceable.  For what it’s worth, you people have no idea how hard it is to resist the trite “wipe coffee off monitor” quip at this juncture.

Bear with me.

Time and again we hear the GOP, establishment and fringe alike, tell us that we’ve got too much government. Never mind the irony of a party that practices medicine without a license by way of routinely mandating transvaginal ultrasounds telling us what too much government is. Just, um, never mind. Never mind a lot of horribly invasive “small” government ironies.

Damn, it’s hard to do this with a straight face.

Let me try again. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Is James “The Liar” Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the way out?

I wonder if he can lie with his mouth closed?

Every once in a while, I like to check the Federal Register. This is a vice I should indulge more frequently, apparently. This evening I indulged, and discovered this:

Designation of Officers of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence To Act as Director of National Intelligence
A Presidential Document by the Executive Office of the President on 09/25/2013

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 3345 et seq. (the “Act”), it is hereby ordered that:

Section 1. Order of Succession. Subject to the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of this memorandum, and to the limitations set forth in the Act, the following officials of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in the order listed, shall act as and perform the functions and duties of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) during any period in which the DNI and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence have died, resigned, or otherwise become unable to perform the functions and duties of the DNI:…

This couldn’t get much hotter off the press if it tried, and it strikes me as a very big deal, indeed. Surely someone in the media caught wind of this, right?

Not that I can find.

A variety of news searches using Google turned up nothing on today’s presidential memo on succession for the role of Director of National Intelligence. For that matter, nothing came up about the memo when I search my news sources and blog roll in InoReader (the tool I use now that Google’s Reader is caput). That, however, is not to say that there wasn’t anything relevant out there.

Marcy Wheeler’s emptywheel had this fresh, new content today:

Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

So DiFi’s [Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA] idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

I love it.  For that matter, Ms. Wheeler starts the piece off strong with:

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

Excellent. Ms. Wheeler might not have mentioned today’s succession memo, but perhaps Mr. Goodale did over at the Guardian?

To reform the NSA, fire officials who lie

This article is also from today, and it’s an excellent bit of reportage. Mr. Goodale ends it on this note:

Obviously, if this culture seeps into popular culture, lies and deceits will be easily tolerated – and we will all be the worse for it. President Obama should focus on this issue before it is too late. But it is not at all clear that he cares about it any more than Congress or the Justice Department do.

Interestingly, he also makes no mention of the memo hot off President Obama’s desk.

If this were a reshuffling of succession rules for just about any other agency, it would probably be among the dullest things ever. With James “The Liar” Clapper at the center of so much controversy, however, should we see this as just a bit of housekeeping minutiae? Or should we expect to see an announcement of Clapper’s resignation soon?

I hope so. Part of me will cheer. The dominant, cynical side of me will just wonder who will be signing Clapper’s checks next. My gut says he’ll still be an intelligence insider, just on a private contractor’s payroll.

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Image credit: Official portrait in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Cross-posted from Ars Skeptica

CATEGORY: Taxation

Aren’t crippling sanctions and regime change what we seek against enemies?

A wild GOP appears!

Seriously. If one searches on the terms effect of crippling sanctions, one finds over 800,000 results at Google. A quick review of the first great many confirms, at the very least, that Iran, an enemy (so-called), is the primary subject. Debate rages as to whether sanctions are effective for accomplishing their intended goals, but there seems to be a fair amount of detailed information that they are certainly effective at damaging the enemy’s middle class.

This just in! Partisan radicals have stormed buildings nationwide and are holding hostages at gunpoint. If their demands are not met, they will kill as many hostages as they need to until the Obama administration backs down on the Affordable Care Act.

Here we are, the 21st Century barely warming up, and a select band of partisan radicals famous for co-opting an unholy trinity of political party, fake philosophy, and extremist religion are proposing just such crippling sanctions that would certainly do more to harm the middle class than they would to meet stated objectives. The problem is, those partisans are right here in America, the regime they seek to change is our own, and the net result is that they are treating America as the enemy.

Terrorism is the application of violence or threat of violence to attain political goals. Repeal of the ACA is the obstructionist GOP contingent’s stated political goal. That the threat of government shutdown almost certainly results in the death of greater than 0% of those affected is, of necessity, a threat of violence in the same way that this particular politically partisan contingent construes taxation to be violence. Ergo, GOP obstructionist radicals are, like Al Nusra Front, terrorists actively engaged not only in threats of violence against the American people for their political goals, but in the undermining of national security. Adding insult to injury, their assault on the American people won’t even accomplish their goal if they start executing hostages.

Taxation as theft

Mr. Boehner said the dispute with Democrats amounted to a question of “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.” 

Clearly, we are dealing with folks that believe that the apparently non-violent is, by extension, actually violence. For them, the abstract is concrete. I believe I fairly make their case when I put it thusly:

The government sends you a polite letter notifying you that taxes are due and payable. You send a polite letter back indicating that you will not relinquish your funds upon their polite request. The government proceeds to shuffle about other seemingly polite pieces of paper such that you are required to appear in court. Not wishing to appear ungracious, you make your appearance. The judge informs you, ever so politely, that payment is not optional. It is mandatory. You politely decline. The government proceeds to shuffle about more seemingly polite pieces of paper. At some point, gentlemen armed with guns and authority arrive at your home or place of employment, presenting polite pieces of paper indicating seizure of a variety of your assets. Followed through to its logical fruition, the peaceful and noncompliant citizen is eventually faced with drawn weapons. Violence!

Terrorism

The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Simplified rendering of the latest GOP legislative tactic: Repeal Obamacare (political goal) or we will shut down the government.

See what you made us do?

Fox News: Capitol Hill report warns shutdown could pose risks to national security

“We had victory today,” House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote. “The House has listened to the American people. Now it’s time for the U.S. Senate to listen.”

Yes, because taking America hostage and issuing a credible threat of indiscrimate death to achieve your political goals is a victory.  Added bonus, you actually jeopardize American national security.  We see what you did there.

With that bit of preamble out of the way, let’s take a look at a slice of America as an example of the potential effects of a government shutdown, shall we?

America Under Siege

What a government shutdown would look like in Nevada

The current threats, however, may be more plausible than earlier occasions when Congress sounded an alarm. For the first time, there’s a solid faction of the Republican Party openly angling for a shutdown and for lawmakers to vote to prove how much they really hate Obamacare.

And it’s not like Democrats are about to wave a white flag in surrender just days before the health care exchanges are scheduled for their national debut.

So if a government shutdown is on the horizon, what would it look like for Nevada? Here’s a list of what and where to expect the local effects.

For the sake of simplicity, however illusory, let’s assume that while the numbers presented in the Sun’s article will differ from region to region, the effect of a government shutdown as experienced elsewhere in the country will essentially mirror the effect in Nevada.

Number, numbers everywhere, and not a drop of blood to drink. Pity that, because we only seem to understand blood. Allow me to reframe issue a touch. We’re not just dealing with clowns in clown cars here. We’re dealing with clowns like this:

I’ve got your number, and it’s sweet and gooey!

Hold on, what? Blood? Clowns? Bloodthirsty clowns? What the hell?

Simple. Numbers are the crunchy outside. Blood is what makes numbers gooey in the middle.  These clownish bloodthirsty freaks holding America hostage talk numbers, numbers without calling attention to the fact that it’s actual American blood they’ll gladly spill in pursuit of their agenda.  Hell, even if they actually believe that they’re preventing a greater harm, Obamacare, with its fictitious death panels, that’s just not going to wash.  Destroying the village to save it wasn’t good enough for My Lai.  It’s not good enough for us here.  And it doesn’t change the fact that threatening violence in pursuit of a political goal is a form of terrorism.

This is one arena where GOP & Co. have Team Blue at a severe disadvantage. These clown-headed redshirts (therein lies our sole cause for optimism where they are concerned) are content to use their croupier’s rakes to push little plastic political soldiers around on maps and to hell with the short-term consequences, except when that means they get to gorge on blood-filled numbers that fall out of their cracked and broken toys. It makes great political theater, after all. Pass the popcorn!

Team Blue, on the other hand (provided I leave my cynicism at the door for a moment), positions itself as those who see those little plastic figures as representing very real people, so short-term consequences are as important as the long ones. If the Blues can’t outnumber these Clown Patrol at the polls in deep red territory, at some point Team Blue needs to be willing to make the painful sacrifices necessary to meet bloodthirsty clowns in the abstract.

“Hyperbole!” you say. “Hogwash,” I reply.

For that matter, at the end of this post, I suggest how to concretely drub them about the head and shoulders with their own abstractions.  Far be if from me to show up with a bucket of bitching and not have a solution to offer.

A Dash of Legalese

“But for” – In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law: cause-in-fact, and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the “but for” test: But for the action, the result would not have happened. For example, but for running the red light, the collision would not have occurred. For an act to cause a harm, both tests must be met; proximate cause is a legal limitation on cause-in-fact.

Proximate Cause @ Wikipedia

A Look at Those Tasty, Crunchy Numbers and Their Gooey, Bloody Filling

God always punishes us for what we can’t imagine.

Stephen King, Duma Key

The article at the Las Vegas Sun highlights a great many consequences that, but for GOP terrorist hostage-taking, would not occur.

Approximately 11,000 civilian federal workers in Nevada may be furloughed or asked to work, temporarily, without pay. Does this mean their bills stop? That a bank will kindly waive mortgage payments? That they cease needing food, clothing, healthcare, fuel, automotive insurance, or a host of other necessities? Of course not. Is it really that much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that at least one of these workers or their family members may actually die as a result of such deprivations as may be caused by the GOP’s act of terror? To wit, I posit that some percentage greater than 0% of affected workers and/or their family members face a threat of death that, but for GOP hostage-taking, they would not face.

Active duty service members should not expect to be paid until after the shutdown is ended. I posit that some percentage greater than 0% of active duty service members, distracted by a financial crisis imposed on them by GOP terrorists, and perhaps other service members and/or civilians that rely upon the effective discharge of their duties, will die. Is it really too much to imagine that an interruption of soldiers’ allotments to their families back home be would weigh heavily and distractingly on their hearts? That worries about keeping the lights on and mortgages paid back home would add to the already inordinate burdens they bear in the name of patriotism and service to country? Do we not have enough active duty military suicides already? But for GOP terrorism, this additional risk would not exist.

What about the risk of death faced by military contractors and their families? Is it too much to think that even one might die for no other reason than hardships caused by GOP terrorism?

Some in the country, depending on the ability of their state to bridge the gap between unemployment benefits due and funds available from the federal government, might suddenly find themselves even farther up shit creek without a paddle. Again, I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to suggest that greater than 0% of the people already struggling to survive will experience the slashing of their unemployment benefits in the form of death that, but for GOP terrorism, would not occur.

Social Security benefits for existing recipients may be safe, for some value of the word “safe,” but new applicants and those awaiting adjudication won’t be so lucky. Will every single one of those unfortunates be able to bridge the gap between existing resources and the start of their benefits? That’s yet another risk the GOP is willing to take with American lives.

The same goes for new applicants for VA benefits. Once again, when it comes to fully supporting our troops, the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of our nation, the GOP sees no problem with putting this incredibly at-risk population under the gun. Think that active duty suicide rate was jaw dropping? Can anyone believe that a government shutdown will do anything to improve on the suicide rate among veterans? Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of veterans will likely die.

Surely none of this affects civilians who work in the home construction market, right? Wrong. FHA won’t be processing loans under a shutdown. No loans, no purchases. No purchases, less work for contractors, less sales for home improvement businesses and suppliers. Take everything you know about trickle-down economics and apply it to loss instead. If someone, due to a political hit on an already struggling recovery, should lose their job, how much luck are they going to have, as a new applicant, in getting unemployment benefits from strapped state coffers? Don’t get weary of my repetition just yet. Death is death, after all, each one a tragedy, each one a mere speck of collateral damage the GOP is willing to embrace as part of its political machinations. But for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of workers in the construction and allied trades will die.

Are the good folks in the private sector working to address our renewable energy issues immune? Nope. As indicated in the article, programs expecting payments at the beginning of the fiscal year might just have to wait. Sometimes waiting is not an option. If those concerns cannot find a way to stay operational while funds are pending, doors get closed, sometimes permanently. Not only is that bad for our energy independence and bad for the environment, that’s bad for workers who, like construction industry workers, could end up competing for limited assistance resources. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of workers in the renewable energy industry will die.

Think the latest attempt at slashing $40 billion from food stamps was extreme? Heaven help you if you rely on that or similar public assistance if your state draws the short straw when it comes to timing. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of public assistance recipients will die.

Even vacationers, but more importantly, those who depend upon them, would feel the bite. With visa and passport processing being delayed, a great many, tens of thousands if history is a sufficient guide, will have to cancel plans. Those counting on tourism revenue will surely be adversely affected. Remember, all it takes is one layoff, one desperate soul pushed beyond despair. That’s a life and death risk the GOP is willing to take. Yet again, but for GOP terrorism, some percentage greater than 0% of tourism and hospitality workers will die.

All of that, all of those possible indiscriminate deaths that, but for GOP terrorism wouldn’t even be up for discussion, and their hostage-taking goal won’t even stop Obamacare thanks to the fact that the money that needs to be spent for the next stage in the rollout has already been spent. As pointed out in the article, at least this time we don’t have to worry about critical emergency services. We’ll just have to wait for America’s own Al Nusra Front as embodied in the current obstructionist GOP contingent to pull out their guns again when the next debt ceiling debacle comes into play.

Now, I realize that the temptation will be great to rebut with the claim that death is an unfortunate possible unintended consequence of even the most well-intended policies.  I submit that the difference here is quite stark and simple.  Faced with a failure to prevail in the election booth, terrorists hiding behind the GOP front are overtly threatening to harm our nation if their demands are not met.  As for my seemingly strident cry, again and again, that greater than 0% of affected populations will die, let me as you this.  What is more likely to be true, an absolute assertion that nobody will die as a result of this GOP threat (100% will survive), or that even one will will perish?  How does this differ from a madman pointing a scary rifle into a crowd and letting off ten rounds if he doesn’t get his way?  Would it even matter if all ten rounds miss?  The threat is all too horribly real.

To recapitulate, nearly verbatim, from the beginning of this post, terrorism is the application of violence or threat of violence to attain political goals. Repeal of the ACA is the obstructionist GOP contingent’s stated political goal. The threat of government shutdown which, as suggested above, almost certainly results in the death of greater than 0% of those affected, is, of necessity, a threat of violence in at least the same way that this particular politically partisan contingent construes taxation to be violence, although I contend that my claim is far more grounded in reality. GOP obstructionist radicals are, like Al Nusra Front, terrorists actively engaged, not only in threats of indiscriminate violence, in this case directly against the American people, for the attainment of political goals, but also in compromising America’s national security.   Perhaps its time we start treating them as terrorists.

To the extent that their efforts undermine national security, I would also argue that the GOP terrorist contingent lends aid and support to the enemy and should, as such, be charged and tried for treason.

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Image credits:

Al Nusra Front Executions. Image, as released by Al Nusra Front, posted at Threat Matrix.

Dice. Photo by John Morgan @ flikr.com.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

Scary Clown Face by Spider.Dog @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Taxation is Force. Posted at thinksquad, unattributed.

This “just” in: Jabhat al-Nusra rebels claim chemical weapons attack in Ghouta with an oops

StopJabhat al-Nusra Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack
Paul Joseph Watson, Global Research/Centre for Research on Globalization
September 1, 2013

Militants tell AP reporter they mishandled Saudi-supplied chemical weapons, causing accident

 Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

This article also posted the following important update:

UPDATE: Associated Press contacted us to confirm that Dave Gavlak is an AP correspondent, but that her story was not published under the banner of the Associated Press. We didn’t claim this was the case, we merely pointed to Gavlak’s credentials to stress that she is a credible source, being not only an AP correspondent, but also having written for PBS, BBC and Salon.com.

By all means, take a few minutes to read the full article and peruse the ones linked below.

From a Google news search just now, Monday, September 2, 2013 2:42 AM MST, here is what amounts to full coverage of this claim at a first pass.

Saudi Prince Bandar behind chemical attack in Syria: report
Tehran Times, August 31, 2013

Syria: Rebel Groups, Not Assad, Behind Chemical Attacks Says Pat Buchanan
IBTimes, September 1, 2013

Saudi Bandar Provided Gouta Chemical Weapons, Militants Mishandled
Al-Manar TV Lebanon, August 31, 2013

Further, a search on Bandar chemical weapons turns up the these results.  One might say there is a dearth of Western coverage.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister on accusations over chemical weapons
Euronews.com, September 1, 2013

What passes for American coverage?  The New York Times does not disappoint.  By that, I mean if you expect selective silence and beating the drum for war, you’ll not be disappointed.

President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike
2 hours ago

To be certain, Saudi Prince Bandar is mentioned…in exactly one sentence.  That sentence, however, had absolutely nothing to do with the context presented above.  One might think, given the gravity of the allegations and, for that matter, the sheer mind-boggling nature of a terrorist organization issuing a mea culpa rather than a boast, as well as the implication of an AP reporter’s credibility in the matter, that maybe some mention would be made of these journalistic developments from the Middle East.

Naturally, a cosmic prank of this magnitude must come with a punchline.  Here it is, from three days ago.

EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack
MintPress News, August 29, 2013

Of note at the end of the MintPress article:

Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates . 

The same can be said, in spades, for US claims. See the FAIR analysis for examples.

With all the doubt flying around, let’s take just a moment to vet MintPress as a source, shall we?  Here’s their About page.  Here’s a write-up from MinnPost from nearly two years ago. Here is an excellent compare and contrast analysis from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Zero Hedge, a blog of mixed distinctions, was also on top of the MintPress story. Examiner.com covered the story from MintPress.

Here’s my burning question for you, dear reader.  Where else have you heard this coverage?

Whatever the truth is, before we go lobbing so much as one shot across the bow the American public would be well advised, whatever the short-term humanitarian cost, however horrible it is, to demand a full independent investigation to ascertain as well as possible just what the hell actually happened.  We have had far too many conflicting claims, far too many inconsistencies, and far, far too many weasel words, strong assurances, and empty platitudes compounded with nothing but circumstantial evidence and strident demands for trust from this administration to just sit back and let hawks from both the left and right railroad us into what may turn out to be a cataclysmic conflict.

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Image credit: MSVG @ flikr.com.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: The New Constitution

The New Constitution: comprehensive statement of principles (draft)

CATEGORY: The New ConstitutionThe original plan when we began this project was to offer the amendments individually, invite discussion, then produce a final document. The course of the process, though, has made a couple things clear. First, there needs to be a period to discuss the entire document in context, and second, while the original “Bill of Rights” approach perhaps had a certain formatic elegance about it, the project is better served by a less formalized articulation of general principles.

As a result, what follows is a restructured draft that accounts for the discussions so far and that also adds some new elements that have arisen since the process launched.

We will compile a final statement of principles out of this discussion.

_____

1)    Organization, Composition and Conduct of Government

a)     Proportional Representation

i)      No political party representing a significant minority of the electorate – and here we suggest five percent as a workable baseline – will be denied direct representation in the legislature.

ii)     All legislative bodies shall be comprised proportionally according to the populations represented and all elected officials should be selected by direct vote of the people.[1]

b)     Public Financing of Elections

i)      In order to eliminate the corrupting, anti-democratic influence of corporate and special interest money on the electoral process, all elections shall be publicly financed. No individual will be allowed to contribute more than a token sum to an official, candidate or political party (perhaps the cap could be in line with the current $2,000 limit for contributions to presidential candidates).

ii)     All corporate, commercial and other private or publicly held entities shall be forbidden from contributing directly to any official, candidate or political party.

iii)   All citizens and collective entities are free to designate a portion of their annual tax contributions to a general election fund.

iv)    No contributions to the electoral process shall be allowed by foreign interests, either individual or institutional.

v)     Election funds shall be administered on a non-partisan basis and no candidate or party demonstrating a reasonable expectation of electoral viability shall be denied access to funding.

c)     Secular Government

i)      The government of the people shall be expressly secular. No individual, religious or quasi-religious entity or collective engage or seek to influence the course of legislation or policy in accordance with theological creed.

ii)     No government edifice, document, collateral, communication, or other production, including currency, shall make reference to religious concepts, including “god.”

iii)   No one shall, in any legal context, including legal processes or oaths of office, swear upon a sacred text.

iv)    Oaths of office shall explicitly require officials to refrain from the use of religious language and dogma in the conduct of their duties.

v)     No government funds shall be spent to compensate employees who exist to serve religious functions. This includes, but is not limited to, the office of Chaplain in various military bodies.

vi)    No religious institution shall be eligible for tax exempt status.

d)     Oversight of Covert Activities

No governmental entity shall conduct secret or covert proceedings absent ongoing oversight by a multi-partisan body of popularly elected officials.[2]

e)     Federal Autonomy

No state or local government entity shall assert special privilege or exemption with respect to established rights granted by the Federal Constitution.

2)    Individual Freedoms

a)     Free Speech, Press and Religion

i)      No government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall abridge an individual’s legitimate exercise of free speech. This includes all political, social and civic speech activities, including those criticizing the government, corporations and business entities and other collective organizations.[3]

ii)     The right of the people peaceably to assemble, especially for purposes of protest, and to petition for a redress of grievances will not be infringed.

iii)   The health of the nation depends on a vital independent check against public and commercial power. As such, no government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall be allowed to abridge the rights of a free and unfettered press.

iv)    Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

b)     Equal Rights Under the Law

i)      No governmental, corporation or commercial interest, or other private organization shall deny to any enfranchised citizen the rights or privileges accorded to others.

ii)     The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

c)     Freedom from Surveillance

i)      All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance by governmental entities in the absence of a legally obtained warrant articulating probable cause against the individual.

ii)     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, data, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

iii)   All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance and data gathering by corporate, commercial or other private or public entities unless they have specifically opted into such programs.

d)     Basic Human Rights

All citizens shall enjoy the right to shelter, nourishment, healthcare and educational opportunity.

3)    Conduct of Business and Commercial Interests

a)     Legal Standing

No corporation, business interest or any other collective entity shall be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.[4]

b)     Public Interest Standard

No corporate, commercial or other private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest.[5]

c)     Lobbying Restrictions

i)      In order to further the public’s interest in a free and independent legislature, elected officials shall not be allowed petition the body in which they served, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the interests of a third party, for a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms.[6]

ii)     No person shall be allowed to assume a position charged with regulatory oversight of an industry in which they have worked in the past five years.

iii)   No elected official shall be allowed to assume a position on any legislative committee charged with oversight or regulation of an industry in which they have worked or held financial interest for the past five years.

d)     Collective Bargaining

i)      All workers shall have the right to organize for purposes of collective representation and bargaining.

ii)     In any publicly held commercial interest where a significant percentage of the workforce is represented by a union, the workers shall be entitled to representation on the corporate board of directors.[7]

4)    Citizen Responsibilities and Service

a)     Mandatory Service

i)      All citizens will, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces.

ii)     Enfranchisement will be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation and the world.

b)     Right to Arms

i)      The right of an individual who has completed a two-year military service commitment to keep and maintain firearms appropriate to the common defense should not be infringed. [8]

ii)     The Federal government will establish guidelines by which enfranchised citizens may obtain firearms for reasonable purposes of sport and self-defense.

5)    Justice System

a)     Due Process and Fair Trials

i)      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

ii)     In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed five hundred dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

iii)   In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of professional, trained adjudicators sanctioned by the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; defendants shall have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for their defense.

b)     Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


[1] This disposes of the Electoral College.

[2] An alternative might be to entrust the public court system with the decision. Make all documents automatically become public in N years (and make destruction a federal felony) but the government can petition a federal court to hold them as secret. Court uses a strict scrutiny standard to continue secrecy, advocates for release present arguments and can appeal a secrecy decision (no appeal on orders to release). (Submitted by Evan Robinson.)

[3] This does not prevent said entities from policing explicitly illegal behavior, such as theft of proprietary information or sexual harassment. (Suggested by Carole McNall.)

[4] This item overturns the Citizens United case.

[5] This item eliminates the narrow “interest of the shareholders” doctrine emerging originally from Dodge vs. Ford.

[6] It is suggested by multiple commenters that “a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms” might best be changed to “forever.” This is a perspective with some merit. In truth, though, we’re discussing a body of people who possess expertise that can, in the right circumstances, be of benefit to the people. A term of five years, for instance, might serve to rid the system of revolving-door corruption without permanently eliminating the possibility that a highly qualified individual may be able to contribute to the public good.

[7] This practice is common in Europe and promotes an environment of collaboration, instead of confrontation, between management and labor.

[8] Weapons systems are constantly evolving and we are now perhaps within a generation of the point where lasers, thermal lances and other currently experimental man-portable devices might be viable. The term “firearms” in this document should not be construed as limited to the sorts of projectile weapons we’re familiar with, but should instead be taken in a broader context. (Suggested by Rho Holden.)

Acknowledgments

The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.

Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.

All that said, many thanks to:

Brian Angliss

Frank Balsinger

Dr. Jim Booth

Dr. Will Bower

Dr. Robert Burr

Gavin Chait

Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

Dr. Erika Doss

Dr. Andrea Frantz

John Hanchette

Sam Hill

Rho Holden

Dr. Stuart Hoover

Dr. Douglas Kellner

Alexi Koltowicz

Dr. John Lawrence

Dr. Polly McLean

Carole McNall

Stuart O’Steen

Alex Palombo

Dr. Michael Pecaut

Dr. Wendy Worrall Redal

Evan Robinson

Sara Robinson

Kristina Ross

Dr. Willard Rowland

Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein

Mike Sheehan

Dr. Greg Stene

Jeff Tiedrich

Dr. Michael Tracey

Dr. Robert Trager

Dr. Petr Vassiliev

Sue Vanstone

Angela Venturo

Dr. Frank Venturo

Pat Venturo

Russ Wellen

Cat White

Dr. Denny Wilkins

Lisa Wright

CATEGORY: Syria

Syria and chemical weapons attacks: “Just trust us,” says everybody.

Sarin

Today, as covered by nearly everyone, Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”

Mr. Kerry alleges that the Assad regime destroyed evidence:

“Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them,” Mr. Kerry said. “Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence.”

Evidence, of course, is forthcoming. Until then, just trust us.

 In the coming days, officials said, the nation’s intelligence agencies will disclose information to bolster their case that chemical weapons were used by Mr. Assad’s forces. The information could include so-called signals intelligence — intercepted radio or telephone calls between Syrian military commanders.

Meanwhile, Walid Shoebat, who claims to be a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, presents some kind of evidence that it was the rebels that used the chemical weapons, not Assad. Was Shoebat a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? Confirmation is needed, but how rigorous would the confirmation need to be for it to be accepted as fact? Would it matter if he were? As for the evidence he presents, how good is it? Is it merely circumstantial? Taken out of context? Entirely fabricated? Who should judge?

Meanwhile, Russia, likely to veto any UN Security Council measures against Assad, claims that there is no evidence that Assad did use chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, Assad denies using chemical weapons.

The drums are beating for war, and all too many, some perhaps with dubious motives, are eager to get the jump on Assad. How about we wait until the UN inspectors actually have a chance to report on the evidence, if any is found?

Meanwhile, speaking of obscenities committed with chemical weapons:

“They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.”

And:

“The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq’s chemical attacks and its plans for launching more. “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border,” the CIA said in a top secret document.But it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.”

Surprising no one, Mr. Kerry didn’t mention this bit of our history.

—-

Image credit: US Army Materiel Command http://www.flickr.com/photos/armymaterielcommand/877765649/sizes/m/in/photostream/. Licenced under Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en.

CATEGORY: History

Wordsday: The lessons of history…

First, an apology.

Cover, A People’s History of the United States (courtesy, Wikimedia)

It’s been a month since my last review (and that was a “sub” as I have used a few times when time/circumstance have slowed my reading and prevented me from moving forward with the 2013 reading list). Over the last month I’ve entertained visitors (I live in the NC mountains, so family and friends like to visit when they can – which is usually during the summer), have attended to some family matters, and have generally wallowed in the most interesting, moving, and thought provoking book I have read this year, Howard Zinn’s massive, thought provoking  A People’s History of the United States.

I’ve been finished with the book for nearly a week – and in fact could have finished it two weeks earlier than then. The last part of this text, which, in the interest of brevity, I’ll make the focus of my comments, I lingered over in the same way that one might sit by the bedside of an ailing loved one – hopeful for recovery but alternately fearfully or stoically resigned to a death watch.

Zinn’s description of the period that coincides with my life – from my birth in the last year of Harry Truman’s second term to sometime late in the first term of George W. Bush – is a chronicle of the undoing of much of the social safety net put into place in response to the Great Depression. That, combined with our failure to learn from our military adventures in Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuing manipulation of many of our fellow citizens into believing that our economic and social problems are caused by fellow Americans living in poverty rather than by the social practices of corporations and financial speculators whose only allegiance is to profit have brought us to the pretty pass in which we now find ourselves.

Zinn notes, for example, the following:

* The regressive revision of the tax code beginning in the late 1950′s and accelerating since Reagan’s presidency to make sure that the wealthiest paid a smaller and smaller percentage of taxes on their incomes until, as Warren Buffet has observed, a billionaire such as he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

* The insistence of every President, Republican or Democrat, on increasing defense spending even in light of mountains of information showing that the only benefactors of such spending are corporations engaged in defense contracting.

* The focused, relentless debilitation,  de-certification, and destruction of labor unions in order to increase profits for shareholders.

* Our government’s  persistence on military adventuring and (mostly for economic purposes) empire  building in spite of the lesson of Vietnam taught the country about such behaviors.

* The polarization of the electorate (what little electorate there is) through selective, patently biased presentations of news focusing on the nonsensical and irrelevant.

The disenfranchisement of voters to manipulate electoral outcomes.

The critical reception for Zinn has been mixed, though in the main even conservative historians have acknowledged that his, for want of a better term, “historical revisionism” approach to the story of our country has great power and asks important philosophical questions.

Thoughtful people, including fellow historians, disagree with Zinn - though some who do act mostly for political reasons. I urge you by all means to read his work for yourself and decide.

Still, when a writer offers provocative insights such as these:

To emphasize the commonality of the 99 percent, to declare deep enmity of interest with the 1 percent, is to do exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elites allied to them – from Founding Fathers to now – have tried their best to prevent. Madison feared a “majority faction” and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words “We the people…,” pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure “domestic tranquillity [sic].”

He should be read. Agree or disagree with Zinn’s depiction of America, it’s a powerful book and deserves its place as part of the national conversation.

Image (1) obama_apocalypse.jpg for post 42896

Obama’s picks for “outsider” NSA review — looks like the fix is in

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy

This just in via ABC News blogger Mike Levine:

White House Picks Panel to Review NSA Programs

I don’t know whether ABC’s Mike Levine just rubber-stamped brief bios of the panel picks or if there were any degree of research done, but here’s what I’ve come up with regarding what President Obama refers to as “outside experts.”

Right off the bat, let’s look at one detail fairly well buried in Levine’s blog post at ABC.

In 60 days, the review panel will provide an interim report to the director of national intelligence, who will then brief the president on the panel’s findings.

Note how Levine fails to mention James Clapper by name. Isn’t that just a touch odd in an article about such a momentous occasion, especially an article rife with names, especially when the name omitted is that of someone folks on both the left and right would like to see, by respectable majorities, prosecuted for perjury? That James Clapper will receive the interim report and brief the President. Feel better yet?

So let’s take a closer look at these “outsider” panel picks.

Michael Morell

ABC/Levine:

Morell was acting director of the CIA until March, when John Brennan was sworn in as director.

Morell has worked at the CIA since 1980, holding a variety of senior positions, according to the CIA. In fact, he was serving as President George W. Bush’s intelligence briefer on the day of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks.

Independent citizen “journalist” (read: me):

Morell’s bio at allgov.com had this to say:

Morell served as a presidential briefer, i.e., chief of the staff who presents the President’s Daily Brief, for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he was with President Bush on September 11, 2001. After serving as executive assistant to CIA Director George J. Tenet, from 2003 to 2006, during which time the CIA was engaged in torture [emphasis added], Morell took a secret assignment overseas, including in London, UK.

Just peachy.

Things really start to get interesting at Wikipedia, though.  The Wikipedia article shows that Morell only just recently retired from his post as Deputy Director of the CIA, and that he served as Acting Director twice. Why did her retire? According to Wikipedia, “to devote more time to his family and to pursue other professional opportunities.”

I did say that things only start to get interesting there, right?  What did The Atlantic Wire have to say about Morell’s resignation? Oh, nothing much, certainly nothing to suggest that he resigned because of his role in deleting mentions of terrorism in the Benghazi talking points. Oh, wait. I lie. That’s exactly what the article is about.

My takeaway? This “outsider” was an insider to no less than three presidents and their intelligence apparatus. Those presidents can be fairly classified as “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” and “neoliberal” respectively. Take that how you list. Oh, and torture! And Benghazi! I managed to collect this much less flattering info in a matter of minutes. I dread to think what I might find if I actually had a massive media outlet’s resources at my disposal.

Richard Clarke

ABC/Levine:

Richard Clarke served the last three presidents as a senior White House adviser, including as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, according to his private security firm’s website. He became a vocal critic of the Bush administration, causing consternation in some Republican circles.

He has been an on-air consultant on terrorism for ABC News.

Citizen “journalist”:

Really, Levine?  That’s all you could come up with?  According to Wikipedia, Clarke is “the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States.” He served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush. ABC’s blogger apparently loses track after three. To Clarke’s credit, he was critical of the Bush 43 administration for their approach to counter-terrorism and the war on Iraq. In all reality, Clarke may just be a bright spot on this panel. Then again, did he or did he not play a role in letting the bin Laden family out of the US on September 20, 2001? Would that matter? Does Clarke’s endorsement of President Obama for his second run at the White House compromise his impartiality? In any event, there’s a ton of information on Clarke, both laudatory and damning. ABC’s Levine doesn’t seem to think any of that relevant. Chalk this one up as another inside “outsider.”

Peter Swire

ABC/Levine:

Swire recently became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At the start of the Obama administration, he served as a special assistant to the president for economic policy and, during the Clinton administration, he served as the chief counselor for privacy.

Citizen “journalist”:

Swire, like Clarke, appears to be a good, if apparently unlikely, Obama pick for a place on the panel. Yet again, however, a not insignificant point here is Levine’s failure to do more by way of reportage. Another quick search on Wikipedia reveals more relevant information than ABC’s blogger does. Swire has served under two presidents, Clinton and Obama, sure. He’s an internationally recognized expert on privacy. He was instrumental in the creation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. He’s actively involved in the development of the World Wide Web Consortium’s effort to mediate a global Do Not Track standard.

Further, Swire is actively antagonistic to NSA abuses of section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. According to Indiana University News Room, Peter Swire is a co-signer of an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to overturn the FISC authorization for the NSA to collect “”all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon,” including calls wholly within the U.S. and calls between the U.S. and abroad.” If President Obama is trying to create a stacked deck, he’s got a funny way of going about it.  Nevertheless, this outsider is still an inside job, and that keeps me leery.

Cass Sunstein

ABC/Levine:

Sunstein left the White House a year ago as President Obama’s so-called “regulatory czar,” returning to Harvard Law School, according to the Center for American Progress, where Sunstein is also a senior fellow. As President Obama’s administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein’s post was considered one of the most powerful in Washington, given its ability to shape how laws were implemented.

Again, this is all ABC’s Levine can come up with? Your friendly neighborhood citizen “journalist,” relying once again on the most cursory attempts at fact-finding, and doing so mainly via Wikipedia (a big no-no, right?) still managed to find this out…

“Some view him as liberal, despite Sunstein’s public support for George W. Bush’s judicial nominees Michael W. McConnell and John G. Roberts…”

Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. Would that be THE Chief Justice John Roberts, who single-handedly, and with no oversight or confirmation process, picks all the FISA judges until he dies or retires? THAT John Roberts?

This is the same Sunstein that has said:

There is no reason to believe that in the face of statutory ambiguity, the meaning of federal law should be settled by the inclinations and predispositions of federal judges. The outcome should instead depend on the commitments and beliefs of the President and those who operate under him.

Can you say, “Unitary Executive?” Can you say, “Cheney?”

This is the same Sunstein who thinks that thinks, “in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.” That’s right.  Our free speech needs fiddling and tweaking, and he’s just the guy to do it.

Straight from good ol’ Wikipedia, Sunstein thinks that:

“[T]here is a need to reformulate First Amendment law. He thinks that the current formulation, based on Justice Holmes’conception of free speech as a marketplace “disserves the aspirations of those who wrote America’s founding document.” The purpose of this reformulation would be to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention [emphasis added] to public issues and greater diversity of views.”

Given some of his other views, I dread to think what Sunstein means by “ensuring greater attention.” A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Oh, we don’t have to guess much. He just wants to nudge us, because what we need is more alternately neoconservative/neoliberal paternalism.

Last, but not least, (and remember, I barely even got my muckraking shovel dirty) Sunstein also thinks the government should “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups. That’s right, this guy, in a time of IRS ham-fisted SNAFUs, will have a say in the reports that go through the Official Liar Clapper before landing in Obama’s Chicago School lap.

My count?  Four insiders and one that’s so inside he could Tweet pictures of Obama’s appendix.  My gut instincts?  2 for the NSA programs, 2 against, and a ref who guarantees the fix is in.

Now, lest I show up to the choir only singing in my bitchy, whiny voice, I’d like to propose a completely different solution to this really tough problem of picking real outsiders in a way that might actually cause citizens to trust the government a bit more.  You know, exactly in a way that President Obama fails to do.  It’s simple.

We’ve got 50 states.  We’ve got 50 governors.  Each governor vets and nominates a candidate for the panel.  The governors then have a meeting (teleconference using AT&T would be AWESOME, right?) to vote on six.  The US House gets to pick one.  The US Senate gets to pick one.  These eight, if qualified, get the necessary clearances.  POTUS gets one.  Whatever comes out of such a group would almost necessarily be bi-partisan.  At the very least, it would create a tremendous appearance of genuine accountability to the people.

So what about it, ABC? You guys hiring? I know a guy who at least knows where the hell to find Wikipedia and Google when doing a quick and dirty takedown on a topic.

—-

Image credit: Spy vs. Spy by tr.robinson @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Infrastructure

The feds and computer upgrades: Incompetence often rules

If another reason is needed to wonder about the effectiveness of the federal government, consider its ability to upgrade computer systems. Or, rather, its inability to do so on time and within budget.

The latest failure may drive citizens to consider vegetarianism: A new $20 million Department of Agriculture computer system, designed to manage inspections at all 6,500 of the nation’s slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, crapped out for two days earlier this month, “putting at risk millions of pounds of beef, poultry, pork and lamb that had left the plants before workers could collect samples to check for E. coli bacteria and other contaminants.”

Reports Ron Nixon of The New York Times:

The shutdown of the system is only the latest in a series of computer troubles affecting some 3,000 federal meat inspectors who are using the new technology. The inspectors visually and manually inspect every carcass in slaughterhouses throughout the United States and also collect samples of beef, poultry and other meats — selected automatically by the new computer system — which are sent to laboratories to be tested for E. coli and salmonella, among other contaminants.

Over five months, 50 million pounds of ground beef missed scheduled inspections. (Wonder why the processors shipped the meat anyway …) At one plant — just one — “computer failures had caused inspectors to miss sampling another 50 million pounds of beef products,” reported Nixon.

The government and computers just don’t mix well.

Last year, John Nolan of the Dayton Daily News reported “nine computer network upgrade projects across the Defense Department were collectively 30 years behind schedule and more than $7 billion over budget, government auditors have told Congress.”

Last year John Hughes of Bloomberg News reported “a $2.4 billion replacement of U.S. air-traffic control computers that’s been plagued by delays and cost overruns will be completed within its revised budget and 2014 deadline …” The ATC upgrade is part of “the long-term, $40 billion effort to transform the U.S. air-traffic system to one based on satellite technology from one relying on radar.”

But that effort suffered a three-year delay and a price jacked up by $300 million. The Department of Transportation’s inspector general remained skeptical: “Overruns may reach as high as $500 million, or $170 million more than the FAA previously announced, and the completion date may slip to 2016, two years later than the FAA’s estimate …,” reported Hughes.

Last year, the FBI finally managed to finish its Sentinel computer upgrade. The system allows the FBI to manage case files. Sentinel arose from the ashes of a previous 2005 failed upgrade, Virtual Case File. Over the years, the cost to produce a workable system rose:

In 2006 the FBI awarded the new Sentinel contract to Lockheed Martin to deploy the system by 2009, but when cost concerns and other issues arose the FBI took over the final deployment and development of Sentinel. When the Bureau took over the project in 2010, they increased the total cost of the system by $26 million to $451 million.

And no one yet has been able to persuade the U.S. Senate to mandate electronic filing of campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission, which would save an estimated $500,000 a year.

Your tax dollars at work, people.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Transparency. See also: opacity. Obama admin puts hit out on meaning of antonym.

Neon sign,

Here’s your big red neon warning sign.

Friday morning, TechDirt had this insightful little snippet of pithy analysis to share.

Read that again. This is the same White House that has been saying that they want to be as transparent as possible and to rebuild trust. And yet, here they are trying to block the Post from using an interview — an interview they suggested in the first place — and then to replace it with a bland and bogus “statement.”

To what does that refer? This, from the WashPo article cited.:

The Obama administration referred all questions for this article to John DeLong, the NSA’s director of compliance, who answered questions freely in a 90-minute interview. DeLong and members of the NSA communications staff said he could be quoted “by name and title” on some of his answers after an unspecified internal review. The Post said it would not permit the editing of quotes. Two days later, White House and NSA spokesmen said that none of DeLong’s comments could be quoted on the record and sent instead a prepared statement in his name. The Post declines to accept the substitute language as quotations from DeLong.

Seriously, truly, we all, every last one of us, need to hold elected officials to a far higher standard. I don’t care which party is in. I don’t care which base is being appealed to. Lies, distortions, obfuscation, and the outright trash talk that are our daily fare are beneath us. We can and must do better.

I offer these few humble words for your consideration not just because I’m increasingly against this administration in particular, but because its behavior and TechDirt’s analysis in brief are instructive going forward, regardless of which party is in power in which branch of government.

If in one breath one tries to calm the jitters of a disillusioned electorate with lip service to transparency, one should simply not get away with this kind of overt and blisteringly incompetent interference in the next.

Enough platitudes and equivocations. The buck stops in the Oval Office. Heads need to roll, figuratively, of course, or we have zero reason for faith in the way the duties of the office are being discharged.

Like I said, we can and must do better. Or maybe we should just stop calling ourselves Americans if this is what we’re willing to stoop to and settle for.

—-

Image credit: Adapted from original photo by grisei @ flikr.com.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Freedom

Bradley Manning helped al Qaeda recruitment? Obama administration has no sense of irony

Uncle Sam, pointing

Who’s recruiting whom for whom?

On Thursday, Reuters had this to report:

Manning’s WikiLeaks breach helped al Qaeda recruit: witness

Of course, Aboul-Enein is an expert for the prosecution, so naturally he’s going to be a douche-and-a-half. It’s hardly like the administration is going to find an expert that disagrees with them. And hey, they even trotted one out with an exotic name, so clearly he must really understand the enemy. I suppose he should get extra points for so clearly missing the irony in his testimony. Evidence of US wrongdoing helps advance recruiting talking points that already existed. Really, now? I suppose al Qaeda failed to hear about the dead journalists and everyone was just mysteriously quiet about it on the street before, voila, evidence!

If the leaks actually did help with al Qaeda recruitment, and if “recruitment boost” is a significant factor in deciding whether Manning needs to rot in prison for as long as possible, then there’s a terribly long list of people who need to go away for much, much longer.

What helps al Qaeda recruitment? Look online for a minute or three, and you’ll find experts that suggest the following:

  • US propping up brutal, repressive, dictatorial regimes
  • US supporting Israel, even (and especially) when Israel is antagonizing the locals
  • US violating national sovereignty
  • US drone strike terrorism (if those drones were over your skies, you’d see it that way)
  • Dead babies
  • Dead civilians
  • Dead journalists (oh, which we know about because of Manning long after the locals knew…so clearly he’s the bad guy, not the government that killed the journalists)

The list could go on, and on, and on.  By all means, please, let’s talk about how horrible it is to help al Qaeda with their recruitment efforts, especially if it leads to sentencing the right people.

CATEGORY: Congress

Work half time, earn $179K — welcome to Congress

… I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. — President Andrew Shepherd in The American President

After the 2012 elections, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaders called in the freshmen for “orientation.” Leaders told the plebes how they were expected to spend their time. They would be “on duty” nine or 10 hours a day, they were told. Half of that time would be spent raising money. And lots of it.

A PowerPoint presentation obtained by Huffington Post outlined their day. Here’s the sked.

So, it appears, freshman legislators plan to spend half their time trying to keep their jobs instead of doing their jobs.

When you considered which candidate to support last year, did any congressional candidate tell you — at a “town hall” meeting, in an print ad, in a robocall, in a TV ad, on a campaign website, in a tweet, on Facebook — that he or she planned to be a representative in Congress who would only work part time on behalf on constituents and the good of the Republic?

Look at that schedule. They will be making four hours of phone calls every day to raise money. They will spend an additional hour in “strategic outreach” (perhaps that’s when they meet with the lobbyists). They’ll be on the house floor or in committee hearings for two hours. (That’s bullshit; unless a hearing will generate considerable — and favorable — news coverage, staff will attend those.) In fact, staff will read necessary documents (even proposed bills running hundreds, if not thousands of pages), and reduce them to a briefing paper of a few pages for the boss — including instructions on how to vote.

Where in these nine- to 10-hour days will these idiots members of Congress learn to negotiate and compromise with their colleagues, whether of same or opposing party? When will they actually legislate?

The fundraising efforts are more lucrative that you can imagine. Freshman representatives seek membership on the “cash committee” — the House Financial Services Committee. It is a committee on which one freshman, Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, “has raised nearly as much money this year from political action committees run by major banks, credit unions and insurance companies as longtime lawmakers like Speaker John A. Boehner and other party leaders.” Barr has brought in $150,000.

Membership on the financial services committee is incredibly lucrative in terms of fundraising, reports Eric Lipton of The Times:

Political action committees — set up by lobbying firms, unions, corporations and other groups trying to push their agenda in Congress — have donated more money to Financial Services Committee members in the first six months of this year than to members of any other committee. The $9.4 million total is nearly $2 million more than the total for the Armed Services Committee, the only House panel with more members.

So many people want in, writes Lipton, that the “cash committee” has grown from 44 to 61 seats since 1980.

If criticized, every one of these clowns members of Congress will utter a daily mantra duly reported by the stenographic media: We are here to do the business of the American people.

Again, bullshit. We’re paying them $179,000 a year (and the average net worth of members of Congress is about $6.5 million for representatives and $11.9 million for senators).

So, according to their “model daily schedule,” they’re only working for us half time. As a collective of individuals, I doubt that the welfare of their constituents — or the good of the country — ranks high on their list of priorities.

Lipton’s Times story is illuminating. I highly recommend it.