Morris has more than 125,000 likes on Facebook and have inspired citizens to sponsor a donkey and chicken for other elected office. His slogan is “cat”chy (sorry). ”Tired of voting for rats? Vote for a cat.” Given the US Congress has a 10 percent approval rating and videos of cats are nearly universally adored, American electeds may not want to ignore this race. More on that can be found here.
MSNBC gets a new anchor.
A kitten yes, but how about an abortion? It has been six months since the Newtown shooting and while we are no where near passing any gun safety bills, the US House of Representatives is poised to take up the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban the procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy. After the sponsor of the bill, Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) got into some trouble for saying instances of pregnancy from rape are “rare,” exceptions for rape and incest were added — provided the rape or incest is reported to police before the abortion. Keep in mind more than 54 percent of rapes go unreported in the United States so this will be a problem for many women, or it would be if it had a chance in hell of becoming law, which it doesn’t.
Currently, more states have waiting periods for abortions than for gun purchases. While most gun enthusiasts are quick to point to the Second Amendment, few who want to ban abortion acknowledge it is a constitutionally protected procedure. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence 2008 poll, 65 percent of Americans (and 64 percent of American gun owners) support a waiting period for gun purchases. Meanwhile a Gallup poll from January 2013 showed that 53 percent of Americans support the Roe v. Wade ruling. Add to that the data that show wide support for increased background checks for gun purchases and stricter gun control measures in general (read this) the House’s actions on abortion before gun safety make even less sense.
It’s time for Congress to get some real work done and stop this nonsense. Bills like this show that their agenda has nothing to do with what’s best for the country.
The fight over who was right in the wake of last week’s big NSA data-mining disclosure, the Obama Administration or Snowden and Greenwald, was over before it even started. Let me explain by way of a recent piece in Salon, written by Andrew O’Hehir, that detailed the bizarre public battle being played out between documentary director Alex Gibney and left-wing journalist Chris Hedges. It concerns Gibney’s new movie, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks,” which details the rise of the notorious secret-sharing site Wikileaks and its equally notorious founder Julian Assange. Gibney directed the harrowing Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi To the Dark Side,” about a doomed Afghan cab driver’s very unfortunate run-in with the Bush-Cheney-era torture policy, so you’d think he had a good amount of street cred with the institutional left. Not enough, though, apparently, to protect him from being excoriated when it believes he’s stepping out of line with accepted orthodoxy. In “We Steal Secrets,” Gibney is sympathetic but still tough on Assange and his creation — too tough, it seems, for Hedges, who two weeks ago wrote a scathing piece in TruthDig calling the film “agitprop for the security and surveillance state.” O’Hehir’s take on Hedges’s unnecessarily blistering attack on Gibney and his movie, seemingly for the crime of not being deferential enough to Assange’s supposedly well-established status as a demi-god, is terrifically insightful.
“There’s a powerful strain of left-wing thought that insists we need heroes in order not to lose our idealism. I would speculate that for Hedges it’s worth sacrificing Gibney and his film to uphold the avatar of Julian Assange for a generation of young hackers and activists. In his article, Hedges compares (Bradley) Manning and Assange to Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin and Frantz Fanon (and even, later on, to Martin Luther King Jr.). That seems a painful stretch. More to the point, none of those people would have stood for accusing someone who is not your real enemy of being a traitor, a scoundrel and a turncoat for telling the wrong kind of story.”
Not only does O’Hehir nail it with this assessment, he goes a long way in explaining the reason why political disagreements in general in the year 2013 will almost never be objectively decided or even considered: hero worship. It’s not only the left that does it; it’s all of us. We create and then rally behind those we happen to agree with and will generally defend them against all comers, convinced that what we’re doing is contributing to the greater good. While I certainly don’t want to succumb to the dreaded “both sides do it” meme, well, yeah, both sides do it. Conservatives notoriously gather in lockstep behind the people and issues they deify and hold true and, despite a few recent hiccups, rarely break ranks; liberals, particularly the far-left, which suffers from the worst kind of persecution complex, also choose their totems and then guard them at all costs in the name of preserving the sanctity of their value to the overall movement. What’s interesting about the institutional left, though, is that, since it prides itself on intellectual honesty and a strict adherence to thorough analysis, it actually manages to convince itself that what it’s doing isn’t mindless hero worship and is instead something far more noble. Despite Andrew O’Hehir’s willingness to come right out and admit reality, many on the left truly believe they’re immune to confirmation bias. That kind of ignorance is for the less-enlightened beings on the other side, they say.
Case in point: For the past week-and-a-half, the story told by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald has slowly and assuredly been chipped away at by journalists asking very legitimate questions and pointing out very legitimate problems with it. Right off the bat, Greenwald undoubtedly engaged in his own form of hero worship in his initial reporting on Snowden’s disclosure and it seems to have tainted his commitment to objective reality and the pursuit of the truth in all its occasional ugliness and ambiguity. This may seem like an ad hominem attack but believe me it’s not. As I said last week, it’s simply asking that people consider the source when looking at Greenwald’s reporting on a story that just happens to confirm every single one of his firmly held and relentlessly espoused biases. I guarantee you that Snowden did exactly that: he considered the source, understood where Greenwald stridently stood, knew he would be granted not simply a fair shake but a no-tough-questions-asked policy of public glorification, and he dove right in. Greenwald so desperately wants Snowden’s story to be 100% on the up-and-up that he’s making easily spotted, amateurish mistakes in the way he reports it, and all that’s doing is giving his critics all the ammo they need to dismiss him and his “bombshell.”
But that hardly matters to the faithful. For many on the left, Snowden’s tale was unequivocally true and undoubtedly the stuff of paranoid nightmares long before it was even reported. Greenwald’s stories and Snowden’s nebulous accusations and behavior only confirmed that which the left already knew and had been railing about for years without direct proof of their suspicions. Any attempt to refute either, in the eyes of many far-left liberals, now amounts to little more than pro-surveillance state fealty to authority, regardless of how backed up by facts it happens to be. What’s really ironic is that Greenwald has spent his entire recent career accusing anyone who disagrees with him of engaging in hero worship and submission to the “cult of personality” surrounding Barack Obama, and yet here he is now, prostrating himself before a man he himself believes can do no wrong and has in fact done an inarguable right: Edward Snowden. Even if Snowden’s story has holes in it, who cares? The important thing is that he’s a hero to the left. That serves the greater good.
Here’s where I’m more than willing to admit that I generally give Obama the benefit of the doubt when it comes to controversies surrounding his administration. I don’t discount the facts, but I always want to hear both sides of the argument before I rush to judgment simply because, yes, I think that overall Obama has done more good for the country than harm to it. There are certainly issues on which I’ve stood diametrically opposed to the president, including what Frank Rich of The New York Times called the “original sin” of the Obama presidency: his willingness to not only let the criminals who gangbanged the global economy off the hook but to call on them to be our ostensible saviors in the wake of the mess they made. But I’ve always believed that if you’re looking to push through socially progressive legislation, Barack Obama was the best you were ever going to do in a country as evenly divided politically as ours is. That’s political reality and there’s no way around it; stomping your feet and pouting that your utopian ideals aren’t being catered to to your satisfaction by this administration is a worthless endeavor. No one’s saying that the president of the United States shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions, inaction, and trespasses, but there’s a way to do it that doesn’t nihilisitcally burn down the entire house for the sake of making a point. That’s smart accountability — and it’s something Greenwald knows nothing at all about.
Is my willingness to give Obama a little leeway its own form of hero worship? Maybe. Like I said, both sides do it. Confirmation bias can always get the best of us on occasion. But when it comes to Edward Snowden, serious though the overall disclosure of the NSA’s activities may be, there are in fact simply too many holes in his story for me to buy completely into what he’s selling. Couple that with Greenwald’s undeniable biases and, yes, you’ve got yourself a revelation that just can’t be taken at face value. And vehemently questioning the details of that revelation, no matter how much grief it’ll get you from a vocal contingent of left-wing would-be acolytes in need of a hero, isn’t somehow intellectually or morally dishonest. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.
By Justin Elliott, ProPublica
In the months following the October 2001, passage of the Patriot Act, there was a heated public debate about the very provision of the law that we now know the government is using to vacuum up phone records of American citizens on a massive scale.
“A chilling intrusion” declared one op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
But the consternation didn’t focus on anything like the mass collection of phone records.
Instead, the debate centered on something else: library records.
Salon ran a picture of a virtual Uncle Sam gazing at a startled library patron under the headline, “He knows what you’ve been checking out.” In one of many similar stories, the San Francisco Chronicle warned, “FBI checking out Americans’ reading habits.”
The concern stemmed from the Patriot Act’s Section 215, which, in the case of a terrorism investigation, allows the FBI to ask a secret court to order production of “any tangible things” from a third party like a person or business. The law said this could include records, papers, documents, or books.
Civil liberties groups and librarians’ associations, which have long been fiercely protective of reader privacy, quickly raised fears of the FBI using that authority to snoop on circulation records.
The section even became known as the “library provision.”
Yet as the Guardian and others revealed this month, the government has invoked the same provision to collect metadata on phone traffic of the majority of all Americans — a far larger intrusion than anything civil libertarians warned about in their initial response.
“A person might uncharitably think of us as lacking in imagination,” says Lee Tien, a longtime attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In a speech before casting the sole dissenting vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act, Sen. Russ Feingold did zero in on Section 215 as “an enormous expansion of authority” with “minimal judicial supervision.”
But even Feingold did not conceive of the provision being used for bulk data collection, merely mentioning the possibility of individualized cases — for example, compelling “a library to release circulation records.”
Civil liberties advocates said in interviews there is a simple reason for the disconnect: In the period immediately after the Patriot Act passed, few if any observers believed Section 215 could authorize any kind of ongoing, large-scale collection of phone data.
They argue that only a radical and incorrect interpretation of the law allows the mass surveillance program the NSA has erected on the foundation of Section 215. The ACLU contends in a lawsuit filed last week that Section 215 does not legitimately authorize the metadata program.
The reason libraries became a focal point, Tien says, is that, “People could see that those kinds of records were very seriously connected to First Amendment activity and the librarians were going to war on it.”
Even before the Patriot Act passed, the American Library Association warned members of Congress that the business records provision under consideration would “eviscerate long-standing state laws and place the confidentiality of all library users at risk.”
“The library groups have a very well-informed and active lobby,” says Elizabeth Goiten, who co-directs the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program.
So has the government ever used Section 215 to get library records? We don’t know.
Testifying before Congress in March 2011, a Justice Department official said Section 215 “has never been used against a library to obtain circulation records.”
But as with so much else about the Patriot Act, how often or even whether the government has obtained library records is secret. Section 215 imposes a gag order on people or businesses who are compelled to produce records.
The FBI has also used a separate Patriot Act provision, issuing what is known as a national security letter, to seek library patron records. One such episode prompted a successful court challenge by Connecticut librarians in 2005-06.
The government itself didn’t get around to using Section 215 to vacuum up phone metadata until five years after the Patriot Act passed, in 2006, according to a new Washington Post report. The government had been sweeping up metadata since after 9/11 but apparently was doing so without a court order.
USA Today revealed that warrantless surveillance in 2006. Around the same time, according to the Post, the telecoms asked the NSA to get a court order for the data, believing that it would offer them more protection.
On May 24, 2006 two weeks after the USA Today report, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decided to redefine relevant business records under Section 215 “as the entirety of a telephone company’s call database,” according to the Post.
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, says that she has for years worried about bulk collection of metadata, but believed the government might be justifying it using other provisions in the Patriot Act.
“It was a really novel idea on the part of the government that they could use 215 to get bulk phone records,” she says.
As part of the Patriot Act reauthorization of 2006, Congress changed some of the wording in Section 215. But because the government’s interpretation of the law is still secret, it’s not clear whether the changes made any difference in the court’s ultimate authorization of the metadata program.
(Originally posted at Pro Publica)
A stark, haunting statement from Greece’s Leftwing leader Alexis Tsipras on the closure of state television in the government’s attempt to cut spending:
“What we experienced yesterday was unprecedented, not only for Greece but for all of Europe…Public television goes dark only in two circumstances: when a country is occupied by foreign forces or when there is a coup.”
Two separate dispatches from Edward Snowden on Monday have continued to unravel the wannabe whistleblower and show him to be something of a simpleton in the way he views the world.
First, his latest leak published by The Guardian. Snowden has revealed the shocking fact that the American government spies on people. Not just any people, but agents of foreign governments. Of course, the overall concept of this practice is widely known by any citizen with half a brain in their heads. All Snowden and the Guardian have done is expose some of the secret methods used in an attempt to embarrass President Obama and our allies.
The other, more revealing data point came in Snowden’s online chat mediated by his Svengali/confidante/press agent Glenn Greenwald, in which he decried the practice of spying on foreign entities “without asking for public permission.” That naiveté exposes Snowden’s childish thinking.
In the real world countries spy on each other. This practice is not limited to enemies or countries with some hostility to each other, but even allies spy on each other to keep up with the Joneses. That is how the world works, and that is how it has always worked. Espionage is as old as civilization; you can probably find Cro-Magnons who spied on each other’s tribes and such in order to maintain a competitive advantage.
But for guys like Snowden – and Bradley Manning and Greenwald – this is too much for them. The Great Satan (America) must never spy on others. Not just the sort of domestic surveillance that rightfully is constrained by our laws, but routine espionage work apparently should only be done by everyone but America.
This is ridiculous, but par for the course for this “no more secrets” mindset. It continues to push this idea that if America’s secrets are just exposed, no matter the short and long term effects on the country you profess to love, that our objectionable practices will magically stop and that will stop the world.
In reality, all it does is lead us to double down on secrecy, continuing to work in the shadows to do the unseemly activities it sometimes takes in order to keep the world running at a reasonable pace. It is what the adults do, while the children turn over their bowl and throw a tantrum from their high chairs.
The story of WikiLeaks
Friday was the six month anniversary of the shootings at the Sandy Hook elementary school. That means six months has passed since we vowed to do something. That vow rings hollow in the wake of six full months of stalling, National Rifle Association (NRA) lies and backsliding and a Congress that doesn’t seem willing to do what more than 90 percent of the population wants it to. The NRA’s position has been really interesting as they blamed everyone, including violent video games and movies but the availability of guns and then released a violent video game of their own and came out in opposition to stronger background checks, which they once supported. Moreover, they have taken aim at a former ally who dared craft what many of us think is just common sense — criminals and violent people should not have access to guns.
Meanwhile, the violence and killings continue. Chicago saw a record breaking 50 shootings over the weekend. The nation has witnessed 14 mass shootings since Newtown. Prior to this period, we saw about one a month. We’re outdoing ourselves here. According to Think Progress: “On May 31, the number of people killed by guns since Newtown surpassed the number of American troops killed during the entire Iraq War. As of today, an average of 28 people have been shot to death every day since Newtown.”
It seems that every time Edward Snowden emerges from hiding and communicates something through either Glenn Greenwald or other reporters from The Guardian, he loses credibility. It’s not the fault of a government agitprop smear campaign or those of us who are critical of the shoddy reporting that’s botched this story from the beginning. It’s really just Snowden’s own words that tend to flummox his cause. And, frankly, I have no blessed idea if there’s even a Cause any more.
First, over the weekend, Snowden dumped a new packet of documents into the world via The Guardian. This time around, he revealed that the U.K. version of the NSA, the GCHQ, and with the help of the NSA itself, spied on various leaders at the G20 summit, with a particular focus on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
And this leak is in service of… what exactly? American civil liberties and the Fouth Amendment? Not at all.
Clearly, as John Aravosis wrote in AmericaBlog, this appears to be more about Snowden’s “animus” than anything else.
(Aravosis also wrote: “Famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden almost had me convinced of his sincerity. Until today, when he released damaging information about US spying on Russia’s former president, and offered up no explanation for how such revelations jibe with his earlier claims to be fighting for the American people. You don’t go and help the Russians if your goal is fighting for the American people, unless you have a darn good reason, and Snowden has so far given none for today’s new leaks.”)
In an online Q&A hosted by Greenwald, Snowden justified this egregious leak by saying that we’re not at war with any of the G20 nations so there’s no reason why we’d want to spy on them. In other words, spying is only permissible in wartime, he said. But we’re absolutely at war against the Taliban and al-Qaida, so does Snowden believe we can continue to spy on those players? If so, isn’t that what the NSA is primarily doing? More unanswered questions.
Furthermore, is Snowden so naive as to believe that allies don’t monitor each other, especially when it comes to “frenemies” like Russia? That’s insane. If the U.S. ceased any sort of espionage in this area, we’d likely be the only nation that wasn’t gathering intelligence on the activities of other nations, friend or foe. If Snowden was concerned about being portrayed as idealistic and immature, he surely didn’t help himself with his irresponsible leak or his explanation for it.
But then, within the Q&A he further discredited himself and Greenwald in a number of areas. And by “discredited” I mean completely and totally embarrassed himself and his chief advocate. Flop-sweat embarrassment.
Where do I begin?
1) Snowden admitted that “direct access” to tech giant servers isn’t NSA policy. But analysts, like Snowden, have the capabilities to do it.
Q: Define in as much detail as you can what “direct access” means.
SNOWDEN: More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.
So there isn’t any NSA policy, whether from an administrator, lawyer or the Obama Justice Department, that authorizes direct access. At all. “The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based.” In other words, Snowden had the IT hacker know-how to do it. Not the permission or the mandate.
SNOWDEN: Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.
This raises a huge question: did Snowden ever directly access a server just because he could and, therefore, violated both NSA policy and, arguably, a stack of other laws? And, subsequently, did Snowden cover his tracks by fooling the NSA audits and safeguards? It’s been my personal experience that hackers will often exploit weaknesses and hack into systems because they believe they’re performing a public service by informing the victim of the hack that their security measures ought to be strengthened. Did Snowden do this?
So many questions — questions that should’ve been answered by the, you know, primary reporter who’s covering this story (Greenwald).
2) Snowden admitted that it’s not really a matter of policy for NSA analysts to listen to calls or read emails without a warrant. He was asked about his video interview remark that he could wiretap anyone, including the president. His response:
SNOWDEN: US Persons do enjoy limited policy protections (and again, it’s important to understand that policy protection is no protection – policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens) and one very weak technical protection – a near-the-front-end filter at our ingestion points. The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the “widest allowable aperture,” and can be stripped out at any time.
His argument appears to be that even though there are protections, those protections could be removed at some point. So is his argument against the analysts hacking into the tech giants’ servers or that we should prevent the policy from being removed? How so? With another policy? Odd.
But even if I’m totally misinterpreting what Snowden said in either scenario, direct access or warrantless wiretaps, he continues to withhold technical evidence of his claims — both of which are easily the centerpieces of the story. Hands down, “direct access” and listening to calls without warrants are the two most contentious areas of debate, carrying with them a long roster of follow-up questions. These are areas that deserved independent technical vetting and detailed reporting from the start. So why haven’t Greenwald and Snowden cut this one off at the pass by releasing the evidence and explicitly describing the process in detail? At this point, Snowden’s story is growing weaker by the day, so hard evidence would not only answer these questions but vindicate his credibility.
3) Snowden echoed Ron Paul’s crackpot remark that the intelligence community or the Obama administration might assassinate him with a drone. He was asked, “How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?” His response:
SNOWDEN: All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.
Okay, look, even if he seriously believes the government might murder him, you don’t say this in public — ever — because people like me and Charlie Pierce will think you’ve utterly lost your shpadoinkle.
Pierce’s reaction was priceless: “Just shut up. Now. Every time you say stuff like this, you make it easier to marginalize you as a messenger, and you cost yourself allies in the general cause for which you have risked so much. Answer no more questions from Mr. Greenwald or anyone else. Huddle with your legal advisers. (Actually, this is very good advice.) The United States government is not interested in murdering you. If you have proof to the contrary, please provide it, and all answers containing the names “al-Alwaki” or “Rand Paul” will be immediately disallowed by our judges.”
Perhaps there’s some larger canvass here that we’re not seeing yet, but why would Snowden move from his initial story to the unrelated-to-civil-liberties G20 story when and if he has hard evidence for significantly more damning operations: 1) the NSA breaking into servers belonging to the tech giants, and 2) the government targeting him for assassination? Show us, Snowden. The onus is on him to prove it, and it’s on Greenwald to fill in all of these gaping holes in his reporting.
4) On a less consequential note, but which also speaks to Snowden’s veracity, he was asked about the discrepancy between his salary as reported by Booz Allen and his salary as reported by The Guardian.
SNOWDEN: I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “career high” salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.
Wait, Greenwald didn’t record all of his interviews? No wonder there the reporting is sloppy. And perhaps that explains why Greenwald reported this:
He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves.
Did he have another job in Hawaii prior to Booz Allen that paid him $200,000 annually? I thought his previous job was with Dell in Maryland? Accurate, detailed reporting would resolve this, but we don’t have it.
5) Why is Snowden doing this? His answer is yanked directly from every insufferable gripe you’ve ever read about the Obama administration:
SNOWDEN: Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.
Snowden must’ve entirely missed Greenwald’s extensive and typically incendiary posts in the Summer of 2008 when then-Senator Barack Obama voted for the FISA Amendments bill — the very legislation that gave us Section 702 and PRISM in the first place. This was months before the election,
but Snowden ostensibly voted for the Obama ticket anyway. [CORRECTION: Snowden reportedly voted for a third party candidate in 2008, which makes his effusive disappointment with Obama even more puzzling.] He must’ve also missed all of the congressional votes to block the closure of the prison at Guantanamo.
Clearly Greenwald thinks exposing Snowden’s unscripted comments to the public will augment his source’s credibility, rather than simply providing evidence for Snowden’s previous claims. But it’s not working. Suspicions about Snowden as a paranoid conspiracy theorist and Ron-Paul-meets-Alex-Jones disciple aren’t being assuaged by Snowden’s own words, or by Greenwald’s murky coverage. Surely this is unintentional, but it won’t surprise me if more and more people begin to ask what they’re hiding beneath the obfuscation and growing weirdness.