Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Headless Country

I have not had a lot of time to write this October. Work and volunteering have gotten the best of my time, and with 90+ research papers sitting on my desk that need to be graded before Thanksgiving, I don't anticipate things getting much wordier from me anytime soon.

But to catch up on a few major stories that we've touched on here at TPE over the past few months and years:

First, the "stunning" revelations (I use air quotes around stunning because anyone who didn't see this coming is truly naive) that the NSA is spying on foreign leaders, U.S. allies and, via Google and Yahoo, me and you.

Tap on Merkel Provides Peep Into Vast Spy Net:
How the N.S.A. continued to track Ms. Merkel as she ascended to the top of Germany’s political apparatus illuminates previously undisclosed details about the way the secret spy agency casts a drift net to gather information from America’s closest allies. The phone monitoring is hardly limited to the leaders of countries like Germany, and also includes their top aides and the heads of opposing parties. It is all part of a comprehensive effort to gain an advantage over other nations, both friend and foe. 
It shows you how far Germany has fallen in terms of the international stage. To be able to spy on the Chancellor of Germany and think nothing is going to happen? Can you imagine the reaction if it had been the previous Chancellor from back in the 1930's and 40's?
In testimony to Congress on Tuesday, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., gave only the roughest sketch of the size of the N.S.A.’s surveillance program, but suggested that the leader of the United States’ most powerful European ally was a single fish in a very big sea.
“We’re talking about a huge enterprise here with thousands and thousands of individual requirements,” he said, using a phrase that appeared to mean individual surveillance targets. 
That's like saying, gosh, there are only 200 or so "world leaders" out there...needles in a haystack of the 7 billion people we're spying on (and counting).

I would have loved to ask Clapper about all this, but then he cancelled his appearance at UGA earlier in the month because of the government shutdown. 
Even after the flood of information about surveillance operations made public by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, American officials are still loath to speak in detail about eavesdropping on friendly governments. But former officials with knowledge of the system described an intelligence apparatus with both a voracious appetite and a growing ability to warehouse huge amounts of data. 

The N.S.A. tries to gather cellular and landline phone numbers — often obtained from American diplomats — for as many foreign officials as possible. The contents of the phone calls are stored in computer databases that can regularly be searched using keywords. 

“They suck up every phone number they can in Germany,” said one former intelligence official. 

The databases are different from those housing telephone “metadata” — information about phone numbers on each end of a call and the call’s length — to find links between terrorism suspects. “Metadata is only valuable if you are trying to track the activities of a terrorist or a spy,” said the former American intelligence official.
That must explain why the NSA infiltrated Google and Yahoo's networks, seemingly without their approval, in order to spy on the 325 million terrorists and spies here in the U.S.
 “We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide. We do not provide any government, including the U.S. government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”
Of course they don't "provide access" to the government because they don't need to. The NSA just simply infiltrates whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and its faceless leadership dodges questions of real accountability (or prosecution) using the old "national security" blanket of denial.

Meanwhile, the president (the guy running the whole federal government thing) remains aloof and clueless.
President Obama finds himself under fire on two disparate fronts these days, both for the botched rollout of his signature health care program and for the secret spying on allied heads of state. In both instances, his explanation roughly boils down to this: I didn’t know.  
The old Reagan defense (which summarily boiled down to: A. you're an idiot, or B. you're lying).

The lack of leadership on the spying issue has gotten so bad, several states are now passing their own laws trying to curb the NSA's egregious behavior.
Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws. 
Ah, the "stalemate" in D.C. When last we spoke, dear reader, the government was in shutdown and the economy in free fall over Obamacare and a website that turned out didn't even work.
While Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, apologized profusely during a politically charged hearing on Capitol Hill, President Obama traveled to Massachusetts to argue forcefully that the Affordable Care Act will eventually be just as successful as the similar plan pioneered by Mitt Romney, his onetime rival and a former governor of the state. 

Speaking in the historic Faneuil Hall, where Mr. Romney signed the Massachusetts plan into law, the president also took “full responsibility” for the malfunctioning health care website and promised to fix it. But he pledged to “grind it out” over the weeks and months ahead to ensure the law’s success and prove its Republican critics wrong. 
As an aside: he was in Boston on the eve of Game 6 of the World Series and didn't even bother to stick around and go to the game (Red Sox won, those bastards).

Anyway, the healthcare roll out has been an epic disaster (Jimmy Fallon joked that they should have put the NSA in charge of healthcare.gov and EVERYONE would have had healthcare by now), the NSA is running amok both domestically and abroad, and President Cool is above it all, perhaps busy contemplating putting the Choom Gang back together again:

The times, they are a-changin.
With marijuana now legal in two states (and perhaps more to follow), a clear majority of Americans - 58 percent - say marijuana should be legalized, according to new poll from Gallup.

In 1969, only 12 percent supported legalization. By 2000 that number had jumped to 31 percent. And while support has generally increased steadily over time, it seems to have jumped dramatically since 2012, when only 48 percent of respondents supported legalization.

In this latest poll, 67 percent of young adults between 18 and 29 years of age support legalization - the highest of any age group - and majorities of every age group except those over 65 also support legalization.

But ask grandma, and she might surprise you - even 45 percent of seniors think marijuana should be legal.
Cough. We can debate the merits of these findings another time, but the first thing we need to do is stop arresting and imprisoning people for possession or use of the ganja, and more importantly get those who are in prison for use/possession today out.

And lastly, speaking of prison (and never going), there was this fun development:

JPMorgan's $13billion Settlement Reached With Justice Department:
Settlement talks between the Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase are in danger of breaking down over the bank’s demands that it avoid future criminal charges and that another government agency pay some of the $13 billion price tag, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Federal prosecutors have been working with JPMorgan for months to resolve allegations that the bank knowingly sold securities made up of low-quality mortgages in the lead-up to the financial crisis. As of last week, the nation’s largest bank had agreed to a tentative $13 billion settlement that would expunge multiple government probes. Details of the agreement were being hashed out, but now the sides have reached an impasse.

Troubles came to a head Sunday night, when attorneys for JPMorgan proposed a deal that would give the bank protection from future criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the talks who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has long refused to grant the bank a waiver from criminal prosecution, reinforcing the point in a face-to-face meeting with JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon. Dimon sought a meeting with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in an urgent bid to dispose of multiple government investigations into the bank’s conduct leading up to the financial crisis — and avoid criminal charges.
Read that again: Dimon asked for and received a meeting with Holder to discuss settlement and avoiding criminal prosecution. Kind of like the time you called up your local prosecutor and requested a meeting to talk settlement over your DUI charge. Or when you had a sit down in the DA's office about settlement and how to avoid criminal charges in your shoplifting case. Or your domestic abuse case. Or (fill in the blank)...

For five years I have been pounding the proverbial pavement on this blog, in my classes and to anyone else who will listen: that the people on Wall Street who looted and wrecked the economy leading up to 2008 should be doing long stretches in the hoosegow.

I've also been saying for nearly five years that Eric Holder isn't fit to be dog catcher, let alone the AG of the United States, and this latest development simply justifies the claim. How this guy keeps his job is a mystery known not even to the NSA (I'm assuming).

More tricks than treats. See you soon.

1 comment:

velasco said...

LOL! I can't wait to relocate out of the USA (again).