Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year - To Somebody

The time zone thing can be a bit confusing, considering 1) we don't understand time, 2) we're constantly spinning around, and 3) for political, commercial, or social reasons, a locality can actually, apparently, just pick its time zone. But, if you're sitting around at your computer instead of out partying, I offer you this forum chat on time zones. http://singletrackworld.com/forum/topic/does-anyone-know-why-christmas-island-is-14-hrs-ahead-of-us-time-wise

Monday, December 30, 2013

Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now!

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: I used to say [Edward Snowden] was a defector, you know, and there’s a history of defection. Actually, there’s a history of defection to Moscow, and that he seems to be part of that stream. I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language.

MAJOR ELLIOTT GARRETT: Such as?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Such as "traitor." I mean—

MAJOR ELLIOTT GARRETT: Based on what?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, in the past two weeks, in open letters to the German and the Brazilian government, he has offered to reveal more American secrets to those governments in return for something. And in return was for asylum. I think there’s an English word that describes selling American secrets to another government, and I do think it’s treason.

[...]

GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, Michael Hayden, in that clip, as he so often does, just told outright lies. Just anyone who has any doubts should go read the letter that Edward Snowden wrote to the people of Brazil, as well as to the people of Germany, and compare it to what Michael Hayden lied and said that he actually did. He never offered to give documents in exchange for asylum or anything like that. He did the opposite. He has been repeatedly pursued by officials of both countries asking him to participate in the criminal investigations that they are conducting about spying on their citizens. And he was essentially writing a letter to say, "Unfortunately, I’m not able to help, even though I would like to help in any legal and appropriate way, because I don’t actually have permanent asylum anywhere, and the U.S. government is still trying to imprison me.

[...]

Secondly, just let me make this point about the complete ignorance of Michael Hayden. He said in that clip that Edward Snowden should now be deemed to be a traitor because he’s engaged in treason by virtue of having offered asylum in exchange for documents. Let’s assume he really did do that. Go and look at what the Constitution defines treason as being. It is very clear. It says treason is the giving of aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States—the enemies of the United States. So, even if you want to believe Michael Hayden’s lie that Edward Snowden offered information and documents in exchange for asylum to Germany and Brazil, are Germany and Brazil enemies of the United States? It’s not treason even if you believe the lies of Michael Hayden.

[...]

It is classic whistleblowing behavior. And the real question is: Why are whistleblowers in the United States either prosecuted vindictively and extremely or forced to flee the country in order to avoid being in a cage for the rest of their life?

[...]

And the final thing I want to say is, you know, all this talk about amnesty for Edward Snowden, and it’s so important that the rule of law be applied to him, it’s really quite amazing. Here’s Michael Hayden. He oversaw the illegal warrantless eavesdropping program implemented under the Bush administration. He oversaw torture and rendition as the head of the CIA. James Clapper lied to the face of Congress. These are felonies at least as bad, and I would say much worse, than anything Edward Snowden is accused of doing, and yet they’re not prosecuted. They’re free to appear on television programs. The United States government in Washington constantly gives amnesty to its highest officials, even when they commit the most egregious crimes. And yet the idea of amnesty for a whistleblower is considered radical and extreme. And that’s why a hardened felon like Michael Hayden is free to walk around on the street and is treated on American media outlets as though he’s some learned, wisdom-drenched elder statesman, rather than what he is, which is a chronic criminal.

[...]

What’s clearly underway is what we saw in the 1970’s when the scandal over and concern over abusive eavesdropping powers was at least as great as what we have now, if not greater. And the idea was that they needed a way to placate the public and just say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re putting these great safeguards on these powers so you don’t have to worry any more about abuse.’ What they really did instead was to just create these symbolic gestures that really didn’t change much of anything, that just made the program prettier and therefore more palatable. They said, ‘We’re going to create a court to oversee this,’ and yet the court was created to be a very pro-government court. It met in secret, only the government could show up, and they rubber stamped everything. They said, ‘We’re going to create oversight committees in Congress,’ and yet they installed the most slavish loyalists to the NSA like Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers as the committee chair to make sure that those committees do nothing but bolster and defend the intelligence community, rather than ever checking them or exercising oversight. That’s what the president is now trying to do with this panel of hand-picked loyalists to pretend that there’s reform going on, and yet most of those proposals – they sound nice – are actually going to achieve very little, if not make it worse, other than trying to convince the public that they need not worry. That’s the explicit goal of this reform process – to make the public more comfortable with these programs, not to meaningfully reform them.

  Democracy Now!
There is also discussion of the UK government's attempts to prosecute not only Snowden, but anyone who has helped him and anyone who has handled or reported on the documents he leaked under terrorism laws (not treason or theft, or espionage, but terrorism).  Also, the latest Der Spiegel revelations that the NSA even rerouted to themselves computers that were ordered online by targets of NSA spying and installed spyware before sending them on to the buyer.

 ...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Are British Political Inquiries as Useless as American?

In November 2003, Bush paid a visit to London where he pledged, amid large protests, that “democracy would succeed” in Iraq due to America’s military intervention in the country. One decade later, however, the country is experiencing regular episodes of violent acts, mostly in the form of terrorist bombings, a largely unheard of phenomenon before US troops invaded the country in 2003.

In Iraq, an estimated 8,955 people have died, making 2013 the deadliest year since 2008, according to the Iraq Body Count.

In September 2004, Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, expressed his views on the invasion, saying, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal."

[...]

Tony Blair and George Bush exchanged voluminous correspondence prior to the start of military operations in Iraq. Now, the UK is moving to declassify details of the talks for an inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the conflict, British media reported.

[...]

The Chilcot Inquiry, named after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, who pushed for the release of the classified documents, is expected to be released by the end of 2014.

[...]

UK officials said their “intention is to be as open as possible,” yet the final decision on what will be released will be made by cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the same individual who fought against publication of the Blair-Bush correspondence in the first place.

  RT
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's Sunday

[W]hy do talking heads on the right get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support?

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible.

The Right has successfully rebranded the brown-skinned liberal Jew, who gave away free healthcare and was pro-redistributing wealth, into a white-skinned, trickledown, union-busting conservative, for the very fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning.

[...]

Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

  Raw Story
Had to take a few minutes to catch my breath from laughing: “Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”

Give me a few more minutes.

Okay, I’m back.
The truth, whether Republicans like it or not, is not only that Jesus a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors, but conservatives were the ones who had him killed.

[...]

Knowing the New Testament is not simply a matter of reading the Bible cover to cover, or memorizing a handful of verses. Knowing the Bible requires a scholarly contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation.
Well THERE’s an idea that won’t float in the Bible Belt. As a man once told me, “Of course the Bible is true and literal. God wouldn’t let his word be distorted.” And as my own mother said, when I suggested there were religions older than her fundamental one, quoting the first verse of the Old Testament, “ ’In the Beginning.’ You can’t get any further back than that.”
For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program, they quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not. This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that if they didn’t help build the church in Thessalonica, they wouldn’t be paid. The letter also happens to be a fraud. Surprise! Biblical scholars agree it’s a forgery written by someone pretending to be Paul.
I wouldn’t dare mention that to a fundamentalist.
The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of Paul .
And, as we know, Paul was a convert. Can you think of anyone more judgmental and full of the desire to punish others than a convert? I think that hard line is why he appeals to the fundies.
So, who were the gospel writers? The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that not only had none of them met Jesus, but also they never met the people who had allegedly met Jesus. All we have is a bunch of campfire stories from people who were born generations after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion. [...] Thus we have not a single independently verifiable eyewitness account of Jesus.
Why let a little thing like that get in our way?
With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party—the Christian Right—will continue to perpetuate the biblically incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all, Tea Party American version of Christianity.
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

It Was a Good Year for Wall Street

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 both hit record highs on Thursday while the NASDAQ surged to its highest level in over 13 years. The year-end rally is expected to add a boost to the massive bonuses Wall Street is preparing to hand out this year. The largest Wall Street firms have reportedly set aside more than $91 billion for year-end bonuses.

[...]

Meanwhile, a spinoff of Occupy Wall Street called The Other 98% has launched a petition calling on employees of Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America to donate their bonuses to the 10 million Americans made homeless by the housing crisis.

[...]

”Bloomberg earlier this year did a study that said that there’s an $83 billion-a-year subsidy coming from the government and flowing into Wall Street. And that comes from the cheap cost of borrowing that they get directly from the Federal Reserve, and it also comes from the fact that the people that loan Wall Street money assume that the government would bail them out again if they ever got into trouble, and so they loan them money at a lower rate than they would to a bank that they don’t see as too big to fail.

[...]

[We proposed they use their bonuses to] fund something called the National Housing Trust Fund for two years. This is a program that was actually created by George Bush in 2008. It’s a program that, if funded at $30 billion for 10 years, could end homelessness in America. But this program has been yet to be funded. And so, we’re saying that Wall Street could take $60 billion out of their bonuses and help get this ball rolling and fund that program for two years.

And then our next suggestion was essentially to take care of the $21 billion in needed repairs to public housing. Right now the federal government only allocates less than $2 billion a year to do these repairs, and so what ends up happening is about 10,000 units of public housing fall out of the inventory every year, so we have less and less affordable housing.”

  Democracy Now
I think some broker just snorted soda out his nose.

Democrat Appointed Judge Allows Case in Order to Protect NSA Abuses

Judge William H. Pauley, appointed by President Bill Clinton, did find that the ACLU had standing [to sue the NSA]. The ACLU had not been granted standing in its case against dragnet warrantless NSA surveillance before the Supreme Court and the lawsuit was dismissed. However, Pauley found that Congress had precluded challenges to the provision of the PATRIOT Act known as section 215, which the government has claimed grants the power to indiscriminately collect Americans’ phone records from telecommunications companies. He also did not find the constitutional claims argued by the ACLU had any merit.

“Allowing any challenge to a section 215 order by anyone other than a recipient would undermine the government’s vital interest in keeping the details of its metadata collection program secret,” he wrote in his decision. “It would also—because of the scope of the program—allow virtually any telephone subscriber to challenge a section 215 order.”

  Firedoglake
Et, voila! You can’t know that an order has been issued against you, so therefore, you can’t sue.

I wonder if any of the NSA leaked documents contain names of people who have been “recipients” of a section 215 order, and if so, if anyone holding those documents would give that information to said recipients so that they CAN challenge it.
Pauley found that “tangible items”—which the NSA believes it is permitted to collect under section 215—are “relevant” if they “bear on or could reasonably lead to other matter that could bear on the investigation.” (It would be difficult to conjure a more broad definition of “relevant,” though one knows there are government lawyers in the Justice Department whose job it is to further expand the limits traditionally imposed by the word “relevant.”)

[...]

When the NSA makes a query, “it only learns the telephony metadata of the telephone numbers within three ‘hops’ of the ‘seed.’” Without resorting to any other techniques the government “does not know who any of the telephone numbers belong to.” It does not know who subscribes to telephone numbers A or B.
Seriously? The telephone companies know. And if the government can’t figure out who the subscriber is, then what the heck use is the metadata? Why would they be collecting it? “Without resorting to any other techniques.” Indeed! So they’re going to collect all this data and then not resort to any other techniques to make any sense or use of it? Not even a reverse telephone number directory? Oh, wait. Maybe that’s how they failed to stop the 9/11 attacks.
Pauley wrote that “any alleged chilling effect here arises from the ACLU’s speculative fear that the government will review telephony metadata related to the ACLU’s telephone calls.”
Really? With all due respect, your honor (which is NONE), the ACLU has no doubt been aware that the government has been collecting all its telephone communications since the ACLU was formed.
Even if the ACLU could prove it had statutory or constitutional claims with merit, the judge decided this would “cause increased risk to national security and the safety of the American public.”
So, really, that’s all the explanation we needed from Judge Pauley.

Or this:
” The ACLU would never have learned about the section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone number but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. Congress did not intend that targets of section 215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets—including the means and methods of intelligence gathering—could frustrate Congress’ intent.
Just. Wow.

Anyone care to speculate whether the NSA or other government agency has photos of Judge Pauley naked with a ten-year-old?
The decision on Friday “is the exact opposite of Judge [Richard J.] Leon’s [recent ruling] in every way, substantively and rhetorically,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “It’s matter and antimatter.”

The case in New York was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it would appeal.

“We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the group.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said, “We are pleased the court found the N.S.A.’s bulk telephony metadata collection program to be lawful.”

The next stops for the parallel cases are the appeals courts in New York and Washington. Should the split endure, the Supreme Court is likely to step in.

  NYT
And we know how that will sort out, don’t we?

Can we call Judge Pauley an "activist judge"?

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Banksters on the Loose

If they only get rewarded, or a slap on the wrist, what's to stop them?
Conspiracy theorists of the world, believers in the hidden hands of the Rothschilds and the Masons and the Illuminati, we skeptics owe you an apology. You were right. The players may be a little different, but your basic premise is correct: The world is a rigged game. We found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world's largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that's trillion, with a "t") worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history.

[...]

[This past spring, word] leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world's largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess.

[...]

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It's about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

[...]

Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.

  Matt Taibbi: Rolling Stone
And wouldn’t you be surprised?
If you can imagine paying 20 bucks for a crappy PB&J because some evil cabal of agribusiness companies colluded to fix the prices of both peanuts and peanut butter, you come close to grasping the lunacy of financial markets where both interest rates and interest-rate swaps are being manipulated at the same time, often by the same banks.

[...]

In March, it also came out that two regulators – the CFTC here in the U.S. and the Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions – were spurred by the Libor revelations to investigate the possibility of collusive manipulation of gold and silver prices.

[...]

But the biggest shock came out of a federal courtroom at the end of March – though if you follow these matters closely, it may not have been so shocking at all – when a landmark class-action civil lawsuit against the banks for Libor-related offenses was dismissed. In that case, a federal judge accepted the banker-defendants' incredible argument: If cities and towns and other investors lost money because of Libor manipulation, that was their own fault for ever thinking the banks were competing in the first place.

[...]

[D]espite so many instances of at least attempted manipulation, the banks mostly skated. Barclays got off with a relatively minor fine in the $450 million range, UBS was stuck with $1.5 billion in penalties, and RBS was forced to give up $615 million. Apart from a few low-level flunkies overseas, no individual involved in this scam that impacted nearly everyone in the industrialized world was even threatened with criminal prosecution.
And aren’t you surprised?
Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs in this Libor suit, declined to comment specifically on the dismissal. But he did talk about the significance of the Libor case and other manipulation cases now in the pipeline.

"It's now evident that there is a ubiquitous culture among the banks to collude and cheat their customers as many times as they can in as many forms as they can conceive," he said. "And that's not just surmising. This is just based upon what they've been caught at."

[...]

And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they're paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit.
Well, I think they could make an educated guess.
"In all the over-the-counter markets, you don't really have pricing except by a bunch of guys getting together," Masters notes glumly.

That includes the markets for gold (where prices are set by five banks in a Libor-ish teleconferencing process that, ironically, was created in part by N M Rothschild & Sons) and silver (whose price is set by just three banks), as well as benchmark rates in numerous other commodities – jet fuel, diesel, electric power, coal, you name it. The problem in each of these markets is the same: We all have to rely upon the honesty of companies like Barclays (already caught and fined $453 million for rigging Libor) or JPMorgan Chase (paid a $228 million settlement for rigging municipal-bond auctions) or UBS (fined a collective $1.66 billion for both muni-bond rigging and Libor manipulation) to faithfully report the real prices of things like interest rates, swaps, currencies and commodities.

All of these benchmarks based on voluntary reporting are now being looked at by regulators around the world, and God knows what they'll find.
And, the rest of us can make an educated guess.
The only reason this problem has not received the attention it deserves is because the scale of it is so enormous that ordinary people simply cannot see it. It's not just stealing by reaching a hand into your pocket and taking out money, but stealing in which banks can hit a few keystrokes and magically make whatever's in your pocket worth less.
And they do it because they can. The price they may eventually pay is always negligible and well worth it.

All hail the “free” market system.

And I will never understand the tendency of the majority of people to dismiss the idea of conspiracies.  They so very obviously exist in every facet of life.  Is it the absolute power of the folks at the top or the simple-minded, easily deceived mentality of the chumps at the bottom that makes the accusation "conspiracy theorist" so rigidly avoided, and so disdainfully utilized?  Conspiracy is no theory.  It's a common reality.

The above article is long, and includes explanations of swaps and manipulated financial reporting, along with examples.  Worth reading the whole thing.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

UPDATE:  http://youwillanyway2.blogspot.com/2014/02/banksters-fixing-rates-shocking.html

Friday, December 27, 2013

Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/12/11/the_secret_history_of_how_cuba
Cuba is the only country in the world that sent its soldiers to confront the army of apartheid and defeated the army of apartheid, the South African army, twice—in 1975, 1976, and in 1988. And in Havana, when he visited Havana in July 1991—I won’t to be able to repeat exactly the words of Nelson Mandela, but Nelson Mandela said, "The Cuban victory," referring to the Cuban victory over the South Africans in Angola in 1988, "destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor and inspired the fighting masses of South Africa.

  Democracy Now: Johns-Hopkins Historian Piero Gleijeses
Another reason for the US political leaders to hate Cuba.
[In 1975] the movement supported by the Cubans, the MPLA, which is in power in Angola today having won free election, was on the verge of winning the civil war. And it was on the verge of winning the civil war—a paraphrase from what the CIA station chief in Angola at the time told me—because it was the most committed movement with the best leaders, the best program. And in order to prevent their victory, the victory of the MPLA, in October 1975, urged by Washington, South Africa invaded. And the South African troops advanced on Luanda, and they would have taken Luanda and crushed the MPLA if Fidel Castro had not decided to intervene. And between November 1975 and April 1976, 36,000 Cuban soldiers poured into Angola and pushed the South Africans back into Namibia, which South Africa ruled at the time.

[...]

And Mandela wrote that he was in jail in 1975 when he learned about the arrival of the Cuban troops in Angola, and it was the first time then a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.

[...]

And after that, the Cubans remained in Angola to protect Angola from the South African army. Even the CIA acknowledged that the Cubans were the guarantee for the independence of Angola. And in Angola, they trained the ANC, the African National Congress, of Mandela.

[...]

Obama, President Obama, was received with applause in South Africa when he spoke, etc., because he is the first black president of the United States. But the role of the United States as a country, as a government, past governments, in the struggle for liberation of South Africa is a shameful role. In general, we were on the side of the apartheid government. And the role of Cuba is a splendid role in favor of the liberation. This handshake [with Raul Castro that causes an uproar among Obama’s detractors] —going beyond this particular issue, the handshake was long overdue. The [Cuban] embargo is absurd, is immoral. [...] The problem with Obama is that his speeches are good, his gestures are good, but there is no follow-up. So, unfortunately, it is just a gesture, a long-overdue gesture that does not change a shameful U.S. policy.

They Shouldn't Have Been on the Road

Special Rapporteurs, appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), have asked the US and Yemen to reveal if they were responsible for the December-12 air strike. 16 civilians were killed and at least 10 injured in central al-Bayda province, according to local officials. The victims belonged to two separate wedding processions and were presumably erroneously taken for an Al-Qaeda convoy.

[...]

“President Obama says the US is doing its utmost to protect civilians from harm in these strikes. Yet in the six cases we examined, at least two were a clear violation of the laws of war,” said Humans Rights Watch Senior Researcher, Letta Tayler.

The US then reacted by saying it did nothing illegal.

  RT

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Channel 4, UK, Alternative Christmas Message

Edward Snowden addresses UK (and the world) from Moscow.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/alternative-christmas-message/4od

Happy Holidays, Arabs

21st Century Bird Watching


Oh. Not just Arabs?
With over 30,000 drones expected to be flying over the US by 2030, the Guide urges readers to familiarize themselves with the craft.

In light of the growing number of drones, the Guide advises a number of techniques to evade and scramble drones. The document is available online and has been translated into 17 different languages.

  RT

Snowden Comments on the NSA Review Panel

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden criticized the presidential panel reviewing U.S. surveillance programs, saying it was a hand-picked group by the government that only suggested cosmetic changes, according to a Sunday Brazilian TV report.

“Their job wasn’t to protect privacy or deter abuses, it was to ‘restore public confidence’ in these spying activities. Many of the recommendations they made are cosmetic changes,” Mr. Snowden said in an email exchange with the Globo TV channel.

  WSJ
I wonder how that worked.
He said U.S. law doesn’t distinguish between a whistleblower revealing illegal programs “and a spy secretly selling documents to terrorists.”

The biggest offense one can commit in the U.S. isn’t to damage the government, but rather to “embarrass it. It’s clear that I could not possibly get a fair trial in my country,” he said, according to the report.
I hope he doesn’t forget that.

He’s been offered – and accepted – a TV address from Channel 4 in Britain to be aired just after the Queen’s annual Christmas address today.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

You May Have Been Left to Wonder

Both Russia Today and Life News, an outlet known for its close ties to Russian security services, reported that Snowden is offering Germany help with its inquiry into National Security Agency spying in exchange for permanent asylum.

[...]

“Edward Snowden would never offer information in exchange for asylum and he has never suggested otherwise,” ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner, who represents Snowden, told BuzzFeed. “Reports to the contrary are false.”

  Buzzfeed
There has also been a recent spate of headlines saying Snowden would trade help to Brazil for asylum. That is also not true.
[Glenn] Greenwald flagged an interview with Brazilian TV Snowden did yesterday in which he said, “I would never exchange information for asylum, and I’m sure the Brazilian government wouldn’t either.”

What War on Christmas?

Here's the National Weather Service forecast for this week in my area:


If I were in the fray, I might refer to every future Wednesday as Christmas Day.  (It's Wednesday night, however.)

Surely somebody out there will have a beef with this. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

FBI Foils Another Terrorist Plot...

...that they set up.

This time they set up a Kansas man. A white man who had converted to Islam. Good thing they foiled the plot. They had enticed him to attempt to deploy a bomb at a Wichita airport.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

So Don't Hold Your Breath

Sure, Mr. Obama thanked his panel for making 46 recommendations to restore the rule of law and constitutional principles to government surveillance activities. (The number alone casts a bad light on the president’s repeated claims that there really was nothing wrong with surveillance policy.) And he promised to review those ideas and let us know next month which, if any, he intends to follow.

But Mr. Obama has had plenty of time to consider this issue, and the only specific thing he said on the panel’s proposals was that it might be a good idea to let communications companies keep the data on phone calls and emails rather than store them in the vast government databases that could be easily abused. But he raised doubts about such a plan, and he left the impression that he sees this issue as basically a question of public relations and public perception.

Mr. Obama, who six months ago said that he thought the data collection struck the “right balance” between security and civil liberties, said on Friday that the government had not abused its access to private information. He continued to defend the mostly secret, internal protocols that the government uses to prevent abuse.

He kept returning to the idea that he might be willing to do more, but only to reassure the public “in light of the disclosures that have taken place.”

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated.

  NYT Editorial
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Defense Budget: How It Works

At the DFAS [Defense Finance and Accounting Service] offices that handle accounting for the Army, Navy, Air Force and other defense agencies, fudging the accounts with false entries is standard operating procedure, Reuters has found. And plugging isn’t confined to DFAS (pronounced DEE-fass). Former military service officials say record-keeping at the operational level throughout the services is rife with made-up numbers to cover lost or missing information.

  Reuters
I don’t see the problem. That’s how it’s done at the Rosenberg Library.
The Defense Department’s 2012 budget totaled $565.8 billion, more than the annual defense budgets of the 10 next largest military spenders combined, including Russia and China. How much of that money is spent as intended is impossible to determine.

[...]

[T]he Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known.

[...]

In one example of many, the Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies between 2003 and 2011 as it shuffled equipment between reserve and regular units.

[...]

Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for.

[...]

The main reason is rooted in the Pentagon’s continuing reliance on a tangle of thousands of disparate, obsolete, largely incompatible accounting and business-management systems. Many of these systems were built in the 1970s and use outmoded computer languages such as COBOL on old mainframes. They use antiquated file systems that make it difficult or impossible to search for data. Much of their data is corrupted and erroneous.
And my guess is they like it that way. Otherwise, why would they have thousands of (five thousand according to one accounting) different accounting systems?
The secretary of defense’s office and the heads of the military and DFAS have for years knowingly signed off on false entries. “I don't think they're lying and cheating and stealing necessarily, but it's not the right thing to do,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said in an interview.
Yeah, well, they’re definitely lying. Cheating and stealing are possibilities.
The Pentagon has spent tens of billions of dollars to upgrade to new, more efficient technology in order to become audit-ready. But many of these new systems have failed, either unable to perform all the jobs they were meant to do or scrapped altogether - only adding to the waste they were meant to stop.

Mired in a mess largely of its own making, the Pentagon is left to make do with old technology and plugs - lots of them. In the Cleveland DFAS office [...], for example, “unsupported adjustments” to “make balances agree” totaled $1.03 billion in 2010 alone, according to a December 2011 GAO report.

In its annual report of department-wide finances for 2012, the Pentagon reported $9.22 billion in “reconciling amounts” to make its own numbers match the Treasury’s, up from $7.41 billion a year earlier.
But we’re sorry that we can’t extend unemployment benefits for you. Or give you food stamps.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to comment for this article.
I bet he did.

And what just happened in that “budget deal”?
Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray announced a budget deal yesterday. The deal replaces $63 billion in sequester cuts over two years and cuts an additional $23 billion in long term deficits. The deal will restore defense spending. The funding comes from increased fees for air travel and cuts to federal worker pension programs.

[...]

[N]ot a single tax loophole was closed.

[Emphasis mine.]
  FDL
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

When Your Politics Harms Your Business

Brazil had been struggling for years to decide which company to choose for a $4 billion-plus fighter jet contract, one of the world's most sought-after defense deals and one that would help define the country's strategic alliances for decades to come.

But [Dilma] Rousseff, the leftist president known for being sometimes gruff and even standoffish with foreign leaders, was thrilled after a 90-minute meeting in Brasilia on May 31 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

After Biden's reassurances that the United States would not block crucial transfers of technological know-how to Brazil if it bought the jets, she was closer than ever to selecting Chicago-based Boeing to supply its fighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

"She's ready to sign on the dotted line," one of her senior aides told Reuters at the time. "This is going to happen soon."

[...]

Because of the extensive maintenance required and the technology transfers, big aircraft deals can bind companies and militaries together for decades after a deal is signed.

[...]

In comments after the meeting, Biden made it clear where U.S. priorities were: "We're ready for a deeper, broader relationship across the board on everything from the military to education, trade and investment."

[...]

Documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden], released in the weeks after Biden's visit, ended up enraging Rousseff and completely changing her plans.

[...]

On Wednesday, she surprised the defense and diplomatic worlds by tapping Sweden's Saab to supply the jets, a move aides said was made in part as a deliberate snub to the United States.

The decision was one of the biggest and most expensive consequences yet of the NSA revelations, which have strained Washington's relations with countries around the world.

  Reuters
The article also claims that Obama’s refusal to offer an apology for NSA spying on President Rousseff, while offering one to Germany’s Angela Merkel, played a part in Rousseff’s cancellation of an October state visit to the US where it was expected she would announce Brazil’s acceptance of the Boeing deal.

I expect Boeing and the US government will blame Snowden for the loss, and not the NSA and Obama. Add harm to US business ventures to the list of treasonous charges.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Panel Decides

A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks.

[...]

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone.

[...]

Stone was one of five members of the White House review panel – and the only one without any intelligence community experience – that this week produced a sweeping report recommending that the NSA’s collection of phone call records be terminated to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

The panel made that recommendation after concluding that the program was “not essential in preventing attacks.”

[...]

The conclusions of the panel’s reports were at direct odds with public statements by President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials. “Lives have been saved,” Obama told reporters last June, referring to the bulk collection program and another program that intercepts communications overseas. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.”

  NBC
But, it was my understanding that the panel recommended it's enough to let the phone companies keep the data. How is that much different? Phone company employees, rather than NSA employees have access to the records. And when the government wants them turned over, I haven’t seen much evidence that the phone companies won’t willingly give them up.
“My emphatic view," he said, "is that a person who has access to classified information -- the revelation of which could damage national security -- should never take it upon himself to reveal that information.”

Stone added, however, that he would not necessarily reject granting an amnesty to Snowden in exchange for the return of all his documents, as was recently suggested by a top NSA official. “It’s a hostage situation,” said Stone. Deciding whether to negotiate with him to get all his documents back was a “pragmatic judgment. I see no principled reason not to do that.”
Since Snowden is not in possession of the documents, how is he going to return them? What hostage situation exists?
He also said one reason the telephone records program is not effective is because, contrary to the claims of critics, it actually does not collect a record of every American’s phone call. Although the NSA does collect metadata from major telecommunications carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, there are many smaller carriers from which it collects nothing.

[...]

When panel members asked NSA officials why they didn’t expand the program to include smaller carriers, the answer they gave was “money,” Stone said. “They were setting financial priorities,” said Stone, and that was “really revealing” about how useful the bulk collection of telephone calls really was.
Should these people be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the enemy? Now al Qaeda terrorists will know to use small phone companies.
Asked Wednesday about the surveillance panel’s conclusions about telephone record collection, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that “the president does still believe and knows that this program is an important piece of the overall efforts that we engage in to combat threats against the lives of American citizens and threats to our overall national security.”
Because facts are irrelevant.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

PS:  The panel also suggested National Security Letters be discontinued and recommended the NSA put in place technologies that would prevent any further Snowden-type incidents.  I'm sure they are already on the last point. 

African Asylum Seekers in Israel

Possibly worse off than Palestinians.
The Israeli Knesset [has passed] a new law which would authorize the government to round any of the 55,000 African asylum-seekers currently in the country off the streets and into a desert detainment camp.

After all nine Supreme Court justices unanimously struck down the centerpiece of the government's anti-African legislation in September, the amendment was rapidly replaced with another. The High Court ruled then that to jail without trial people who have committed no crime except to seek asylum is an unacceptable violation of their human rights. To circumvent the ruling and keep the Africans behind bars, the government said it would allow them furloughs lasting a couple of hours at a time, and thus the place in which they would be held by force could no longer be properly called a jail.

In other respects, the new amendment is even more barbaric than its earlier version. While the January 2012 legislation mandated three years of incarceration, the December 2013 legislation allows for indefinite detention. As with the officially-designated prisons where asylum-seekers have been held until now, Israeli officials openly declare that the detention center is designed to convince the Africans to give up all hope of a normal life in Israel and convince them to take their chances back in the countries they fled from.

[...]

[The Israeli government] has refused to review almost all applications for refugee status – and then claims that this is evidence that almost all don't deserve it. It won't allow almost any Africans to work – and then claims that their resulting widespread poverty is evidence that they are a blight on Israeli society. It won't grant them access to nearly any medical services - and then claims that they pose a major health risk.

[...]

As long as the government doesn't deport tens of thousands of Africans in a matter of days, and instead only rounds them into a glorified ghetto a few thousand at a time until they despair of the frying pan and elect to jump back into the fire, Israel's allies in Washington, D.C. will likely remain silent.

  Black Agenda Report
I think you can bank on it.

Isn't it interesting that a people whose major complaint in the world is that they have been mistreated and driven out of numerous other countries would vehemently seek to ban any other race or population from their own?

But, I must admit that this may not be the will of the majority of Israelis.  We know from our own immediate experience that a people's will is not necessarily embodied in its government.

What Jobless?

Drip, Drip, Drip

British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU's competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa.

[...]

Offices operated by the UN development programme, which administers financial relief to poor nations, and of the World Health Organisation were also among listed targets.

[...]

GCHQ, in collaboration with America's National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN's children's charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones.

[...]

One GCHQ document, drafted in January 2009, makes clear the agencies were targeting an email address listed as belonging to another key American ally – the "Israeli prime minister". Ehud Olmert was in office at the time.

[...]

The names and details are the latest revelations to come from documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

[...]

Unlike its US counterpart, [Britain’s] GCHQ is entitled to engage in spying relating to economic matters, but only if it is linked to national security issues.

  Guardian
Which could be argued to be any economic matter, couldn’t it?
The prominent names that appear in the GCHQ documents include Joaquín Almunia, who is vice-president of the European commission with responsibility for competition policy.

[...]

Surveillance on such a senior EU official with a major role in economic affairs is bound to alarm other European nations, and raise concerns as to whether intelligence produced from Almunia or others is shared with the US.
Surely not.

  ...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Great Work, if You Can Get It

Follow up on the EPA fraud:
The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change was sentenced to 32 months in federal prison Wednesday for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job.

John C. Beale’s crimes were “inexplicable” and “unbelievably egregious," said Judge Ellen Huvelle in imposing the sentence in a Washington. D.C. federal court.

[...]

Beale has also agreed to pay $1.3 million in restitution and forfeiture to the government.

[...]

The sentence drew swift reaction from Capitol Hill, including demands from a top Republican for further investigation into the EPA to determine how Beale got away with his fraud for so long.

  NBC
Yes, that would be a good question. And we might start with the guy at the EPA who recruited Beale and, at the time of the Oversight Committee (yes, they must spend a lot of time avoiding their job, too) investigation, was letting Beale stay in his guest room, because Beale needed a place to live.

Okay, nobody thought this was a little strange? For one extended absence, he claimed to be on assignment for the CIA in Pakistan with this email:
“Due to recent events that you have probably read about, I am in Pakistan,” he wrote [EPA’s administrator, Gina] McCarthy in a Dec. 18, 2010 email. “Got the call Thurs and left Fri. Hope to be back for Christmas ….Ho, ho, ho.”
Supposedly, someone who replaced him in Pakistan was being tortured; therefore, for some reason, he had to go there. Ho, ho, ho.
In 2008, Beale didn’t show up at the EPA for six months, telling his boss that he was part of a special multi-agency election-year project relating to “candidate security.” He billed the government $57,000 for five trips to California that were made purely “for personal reasons,” his lawyer acknowledged. (His parents lived there.) He also claimed to be suffering from malaria that he got while serving in Vietnam. According to his lawyer’s filing, he didn’t have malaria and never served in Vietnam. He told the story to EPA officials so he could get special handicap parking at a garage near EPA headquarters.
So he could park closer to the job he apparently rarely went to.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oil from Algae?

Engineers have sped up a naturally occurring process to make crude oil from algae from about a million years to just minutes.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pumped a slurry of wet algae into a chemical reactor, which then subjects the biological material to very hot water under high pressure to tear it apart and convert it into liquid and gas fuels.

The resulting crude oil can then be conventionally refined into aviation fuel, gasoline or diesel fuel, the researchers reported in the journal Algal Research.

The team’s experiments converted more than 50 percent of the algae’s carbon into crude oil, sometimes up to 70 percent, in about one hour and created nothing more hazardous than an odor of dirty socks, rotten eggs and wood smoke from the processed biological material.

In fact, the leftover water and nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium can be recycled to grow more algae.

[...]

The system runs at more than 660 degrees Fahrenheit at about 3,000 pounds per square inch, combining processes known as hydrothermal liquefaction and catalytic hydrothermal gasification.

The system isn’t easy or cheap to build, but Elliott said cost savings later in the process justified the investment.

  Raw Story

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let Them Eat Pancakes

On December 28, 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment insurance. That's because Congress failed to add an extension of those benefits into the budget deal that will likely pass the Senate this week.

[...]

By the end of 2014, another 3.6 million will lose their benefits.

[...]

This is the first time since 2008 that Congress hasn't extended the [long term unemployment benefits] program.

[...]

The long-term unemployment rate—the percentage of those without a job for 27 weeks or longer—remains at record levels, though, in an economy with three job applicants for every job opening. The overall jobless rate has dropped to its lowest in five years, but the long-term unemployment rate is at 37 percent of the total unemployed.

[...]

Republicans say there's no urgent need to extend the $26 billion federal emergency unemployment insurance program because the economy is getting healthier. Democrats, who counter that the long-term unemployed are still struggling, wanted a budget deal more than they wanted the benefits extension.

  Mother Jones
Well, maybe North Carolina can reduce its rate of long-term unemployed with its new school voucher program.  That is, if you have a high school diploma.  It's not evident that even the legislators have that in North Carolina.  Oh, so maybe politics is another option for employment in that state.

In the Race to the Bottom: North Carolina Snatches the Lead

In July, the increasingly right-wing legislature in North Carolina passed a bill to divert $10 million from the public school budget to create vouchers that would give low-income students up to $4,200 a year to pay for private school tuition. Such vouchers are a popular conservative proposal for "reforming" failing public schools.

  Mother Jones
So, I guess killing them off faster is a merciful act.
North Carolina's vouchers, which will become available in 2014, allow public money to go to unregulated private schools that are not required to meet any educational or teacher preparation standards. In addition, thanks to the way the law was written, the money will be available to "home schools"—literally schools set up in someone's house. Homeschooling traditionally has been done by parents. But the state recently changed its home schooling law to allow people who aren't parents or legal guardians educate kids in a group setting. The only requirement for such schools is that the teacher have a high school diploma, that the school keep immunization and attendance records on its students, and that it give kids a national standardized test every year.
A high school diploma. From North Carolina schools that are underfunded and substandard, no less.

Way to go, North Carolina.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Another Snowden leaked document shows that Norway has been spying on Russia for the US.
Under the heading "success stories," the NSA says it is working in partnership with the NIS "to expand and deepen the intelligence exchange, focusing on report sharing and target development on Russian political, natural resources and energy issues," the daily reports.

[...]

The Norwegian government confirmed the authenticity of the document, but stressed the information presented within was a reflection of the "American point of view."

Last week, it was revealed that Norway’s Scandinavian neighbor Sweden was also collaborating with US intelligence to spy on Russian leaders and engage in industrial espionage against business targets such as Russia’s energy companies.

  RT
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

The EPA Could Use Some Oversight

A leading American expert on climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency’s highest-paid employee [$206,000 per year, John C. Beale] pled guilty in September, and has been accused of major fraud of almost $1 million in salary and other benefits over a decade.

[...]

Beale’s scam was revealed in 2013 when it was noticed that he was still receiving his salary a year and a half after he retired.

When first questioned by EPA officials early in 2013 about his alleged CIA undercover work, Beale brushed them off by saying he couldn’t discuss it, according to Sullivan.

Weeks later, after being confronted again by investigators, Beale admitted to lying, but “didn’t show much remorse” and explained he acted this way to “puff up his own image.”

  RT
He claimed he was on various secret missions for the CIA for over a decade, while in fact he was just hanging out at home, and no one caught on.  Really? 

His lawyers are pleading “psychological” problems.

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Monday, December 16, 2013

NSA in Court

The National Security Agency received its most significant legal setback since the disclosures prompted by a former contractor, Edward Snowden, when a federal judge ruled on Monday that its bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records is likely to violate the US constitution.

Judge Richard Leon [a George W. Bush appointee] declared that the mass collection of so-called metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, relating to unreasonable searches and seizures, and is "almost Orwellian" in its scope.

  Guardian
Almost? And…”probably” unconstitutional?
He also expressed doubt about the central rationale for the program cited by the NSA: that it is necessary for preventing terrorist attacks. “The government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,” wrote Leon, a US district judge in the District of Columbia.

[...]

In what was the only comfort to the NSA in a stinging judgment, he put the ruling on hold, pending an appeal by the government.

[...]

Leon wrote that the Guardian’s disclosure of the NSA’s bulk telephone records collection means that citizens now have standing to challenge it in court, since they can demonstrate for the first time that the government is collecting their phone data.
Have at it, folks. ...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Who Would It Embarrass?

What's left to be covered up?
The National Security Archive, a private research institution, has sought to force the government to hand over the fifth of a five-volume internal account of the Bay of Pigs. The four earlier volumes were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Penned by a CIA staff historian in the years between 1973 and 1984, the final document chronicles - and presumably critiques - the CIA’s own investigation of how the [1961] invasion went wrong.

[...]

The CIA inspector general’s report on the Bay of Pigs – which was made public under a prior FOIA request – issued a scathing rebuke of the plan from top to bottom, taking particular aim at the executive branch’s miscalculations.

[...]

Assistant US Attorney Mitchell P. Zeff told the US Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, the second highest court in the nation, that “the passage of time has not made it releasable.”

[...]

The administration has argued that the fifth volume should remain secret because it falls under the CIA’s deliberative process privilege, a legal theory arguing that the executive branch of government should remain exempt from the normal disclosure or discovery in civil litigation.

  RT
...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

It's Sunday

Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Wednesday assured children

[...]

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” Kelly said. “But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is.”

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know?” she added. “I mean, Jesus was a white man too.”

  Raw Story
Had to get Jesus in the mix. (He was white, in case you didn't know.)



These are the people bringing millions of other people the news.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reform

I don't think that word means what Obama thinks it means.
According to the leaks, the [NSA surveillance] review group will recommend that bulk collection of every American’s phone call data continue, possibly by the phone companies instead of the NSA, with tighter restrictions than the “reasonable, articulable suspicion” standard for searching through them that the NSA currently employs.

[...]

For surveillance of foreign leaders, the group looks likely to recommend such spying be personally approved by the president or White House officials.

  Guardian
Yes, we need more power in the hands of the President. He already has the kill list. Why not the spy list?
In an MSNBC interview last week, Obama said the review heard from “a whole bunch of folks, civil libertarians and lawyers and others to examine what's being done”, and predicted proposing “some self-restraint on the NSA and to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence”.
An external review panel appointed by Obama was also inclined to recommend that a civilian head be installed at the NSA, effectively splitting the roles, according to an official familiar with some of the early recommendations.

  WaPo
Easy enough to ignore.
“Following a thorough interagency review, the administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA Director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

The announcement comes as the external panel readies a report on NSA surveillance and the White House nears completion of its own internal review. The White House will take the five-member panel’s recommendations under consideration but is free to reject or modify them.
Why even bother with the panel?
“The big picture is there’s not going to be that much [additional] constraint” by the White House, said a second U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “They’re really not hurting [NSA] that much.”

NSA officials declined to comment.

[...]

A third and separate NSA surveillance review is being conducted by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent executive branch agency, which is hoping to have its report completed by the end of the month.
Swell. Maybe an executive branch agency will recommend more power to the executive. And if it doesn’t, hey, it can be ignored, too.


 


...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

New Report on Bt Crops

GMO-related damage was linked to five different areas: Intestinal permeability, imbalanced gut bacteria, immune activation and allergic response, impaired digestion, and damage to the intestinal wall.

The IRT release also indicated that glyphosate, a weed killer sold under the brand name ‘Roundup’ was also found to have a negative effect on intestinal bacteria. GMO crops contain high levels of the toxin at harvest.

[...]

[The] Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) [...] cites authoritative data from the US Department of Agriculture, US Environmental Protection Agency records, medical journal reviews as well as international research.

[...]

In soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa, “Bt-toxin, glyphosate, and other components of GMOs, are linked to five conditions that may either initiate or exacerbate gluten-related disorders,” according to Smith. It’s the BT-toxin in genetically modified foods which kills insects by “puncturing holes in their cells.” The toxin is present in ‘every kernel’ of Bt-corn and survives human digestion, with a 2012 study confirming that it punctures holes in human cells as well.

  Rt
Well, of course it does. Bt works by a physical action, not a chemical one. Who the hell thought it wouldn’t? You can spray the surface of the corn plant, without spraying the edible kernels, and kill the pests. You don’t need to create a monster corn plant that has Bt embedded in it.

Europe wouldn’t allow Bt corn for years, until Monsanto finally got its way in France early this year.
France's highest court lifted the country's ban on growing Monsanto's genetically modified (GMO) maize MON810, yesterday (1 August), following a decision by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in May that said the ban was not justified by a serious environmental threat.

The court found that the French ban violated European Union law because the maize was authorised by the EU in 1998.

Eight member states have banned the cultivation of MON810 – France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria, Hungary and Greece.

[...]

Last week it emerged that Monsanto will no longer pursue cultivation approvals for new GMO crops in Europe because of the regulatory uncertainty. They will instead focus on enabling imports of GMO crops into the EU.

  Euorpean Voice
But China won’t take it.
China has blocked a fifth cargo of US corn since mid-November after testing found a strain of genetically-modified (GMO) corn not yet approved for import.

[...]

China, the world’s second largest corn consumer, has refused 180,000 tons of [US] grain since mid-November. Observers believe it has less to do with the corn and more to do with other trade quarrels between the two countries.

  RT
Why, and who are those “observers”?

We’ll just sell it to someone else.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NSA Documents, Journalism, & Democracy

There have been plenty of bits and pieces of interviews of journalist Glenn Greenwald lately, but this is an in-depth interview in which the interviewer asks all the pertinent and important questions about the Edward Snowden NSA document leak, and why we should care, and Greenwald answers them.  It's straight-forward, informative, and concise. It's also about 40 minutes long.  A transcript is here.



Coming Soon...

The conservative outfit Citizens United, which in 2008 released the anti-Hillary Clinton film that led to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on supposedly independent political spending for federal campaigns, is working on a new flick assailing the former secretary of state, and it will be released just in time for the next presidential campaign.

  Mother Jones

In This Great Land of Ours

Last year's national poverty rate of 15 percent hovered near the Great Recession’s staggering record of 15 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Although the US stock market has surpassed its pre-recession high, poor residents of some major American cities have not gained from the country's economic wins, the new report has shown. [...] The poverty rate in 2012 was 2.5 percentage points higher than that reported in 2007, the year before the economic recession.

Over 80 percent of US cities reported that requests for emergency food assistance had increased by an average of 7 percent over the past year. The rate of increase ranged from 15 percent in Salt Lake City, 12 percent in Washington DC, 11 percent in Dallas, and 10 percent in Charlotte and Trenton.

[...]

The latest study conducted by the US Conference of Mayors has shown that among those requesting emergency food assistance nearly 60 percent were people in families; 43 percent were employed, 21 percent were elderly, and 9 percent were homeless. Emergency shelters in 71 percent of the survey cities had to turn away homeless families with children because no beds were available, while in two-thirds of the cities shelters had to turn away single people.

[...]

Over 90 percent of the surveyed cities reported an increase in the number of people requesting food assistance for the first time. However, it turned out that more than 20 percent of the people desperately needing emergency food assistance did not receive it.

[...]

In all of the responding cities, emergency kitchens had to reduce the quantity of food poverty-stricken people could receive at each visit or the amount of food offered per meal. In 78 percent of these cities, officials also had to cut down the number of times a person or family could visit a food kitchen each month.

[...]

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed legislation that would cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by at least $39 billion over ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would deny SNAP benefits to about 3.8 million low-income people in 2014, and to an average of nearly three million people each year over the coming decade.

  RT

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words

Another poorly-considered selfie moment.

Say cheese.





 

Here to honor Nelson Mandela.  A penny for Michelle's thoughts.

We can practically hear her thoughts here:







Pictures from ABC.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Presentation slides passed from the NSA whistleblower to the Washington Post reveal that the tracking method used by websites and advertisers, known as ‘cookies,’ also serves government snoops by identifying potential targets to hack.

The NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, have specifically found a way to analyze a Google-specific cookie known as the “PREF” cookie. While PREF data does not usually include a user’s personal information, it does carry codes that allow websites and intelligence analysts to determine an individual visitor.

The slides indicate that the data extracted from the cookies “enable remote exploitation.” This method does not require the NSA to sort through the massive stockpile of metadata it harvests every day; instead it allows analysts to target a single user.

[...]

Also, an iPhone or Android user who leaves a browser application open on their device may be unwittingly transmitting their specific location to the NSA without being given a warning from their carrier.

“On a macro level, ‘we need to track everyone everywhere for advertising’ translates into ‘the government being able to track everyone everywhere,’” said Chris Hoofnagle, a lecturer at UC Berkley Law. “It’s hard to avoid

[...]

California’s Silicon Valley – which became one of the dominant global industries thanks to the popularity of Apple, Google, Facebook, and others – is now poised to lose $35 billion in revenue as international users seek alternative options to avoid the NSA’s grasp.

  RT