Monday Reads

snappy storiesGood Morning!

One of the things that really amazes me when I talk to folks on either ends of the political spectrum is that both think that our republic is falling prey to self-dealing politicians and corporations that exist only to take from tax payers.  The themes are somewhat different when it comes to the associated concerns but the overall  vision of a country and great democracy in decline appears shared.  I often wonder why very few of either see the real dangers but focus more on the silly stuff.  We have had some pretty astounding portends of our Huxleyian future.  It seems we have met the enemy and he is indeed us to borrow from that old Pogo cartoon.

I read this astounding take on the collapse of the building in Philadelphia by William Bunch at his blog at The Inquirer. It is called “When Things Fall Apart”.  It’s an apt lede for nearly everything these days from our infrastructure to our national security policy.

To be clear. the collapse here in Philadelphia of the four-story building was no metaphor — it was a senseless, heartbreaking tragedy that was all too real for people who were shopping for bargains in a Salvation Army thrift store one minute and trapped in a mountain of rubble the next. But the building collapse did seem to be the the epitome, at least here in Philadelphia, of a week that had the feel from start to finish of things falling apart, of the old foundations collapsing and no one sure exactly which of the many suspects is to blame — or what, if anything, will replace them.

Much like the Santa Monica shooting, the news locally that some 3,700 Philadelphia school employees are getting pink slips, the first step in transforming the remaining schools from places of learning to oversized child warehouses, floated away into the weekend ether, In the past, such a move would be seen as a mere bargaining ploy, but in 2013 the sense is growing that no one can stop this tragedy, that Philadelphians have become powerless bystanders watching our schools fall down in slow motion — very much like the citizens who called help lines and begged for someone to stop the shoddy demolition at 22nd and Market.

Nationally, the news was dominated by a serious of revelations — initiated, we now know, by a courageous whistleblower named Edward Snowden — that the U.S. government’s scooping up of data about its everyday citizens — who we’re calling on the telephone, now long we talked for, and possibly whom we’re talking to overseas on the Internet via sites like Facebook or Google — is much more extensive than all but the most cynical among us expected, or feared.

Nothing about the deadly demolition of a blighted four-story building at the edge of downtown looked right. That’s what the people who had watched it in the days and weeks before the collapse told me.

In fact, everyone I spoke with said something seemed off – way off.

Everyone, apparently, except the city that issued a demolition permit for a building owned by infamous king of porn and serial slumlord Richard Basciano. The permit was issued to Philadelphia architect Plato Marinakos for Griffin Campbell Construction – led by a demolition boss who in addition to a criminal record, also has a history of violations on other properties he’s worked on.

Despite obvious red flags, the city is claiming everything was on the up and up, the demolition company had proper permits, the workers were certified, blah, blah, blah.

But I wonder how workers can be vetted when permits are issued through a middleman? And I wonder what, if any, oversight the project had? And I wonder if anyone from L&I ever inspected the site?

If anyone was monitoring the site, neighbors and construction workers said they missed some obvious signs of trouble.

Workers weren’t wearing hard hats.

They were trying to tear down the building in the dark with sledgehammers and flashlights.

And union carpenters working nearby said the wall that eventually collapsed wasn’t braced properly.

The demo was so screwed up, they said, they were literally waiting for the building to collapse.

And it did, apparently killing six people and hurting 13 others who had to be rescued from the rubble.

Yup. We see it all coming and then we watch as it keeps happening.  Joan Walsh believes we Americans are a passive lot these days.05-Atelier-Levitt-Him--Skamander-Magazine-cover--1937_900

On Thursday night the National Journal released a poll showing that 85 percent of those surveyed believed it was “likely” that their “communications history, like phone calls, e-mails, and Internet use,” was “available for businesses, government, individuals, and other groups to access without your consent.” The steady drip, drip, drip of detail about our ever-expanding national security state has led all of us to protect ourselves a little with a kind of tired cynicism about it.

And I think there’s more to the indifference, even by a lot of liberals, to this latest news than just “it’s OK when our guy does it.” Partly, we blame ourselves. Probably every one of us has thought from time to time about how exposed we all are, from our cellphones to email to the Internet “cloud” to all of social media — and then we go about our business using all of it because it’s all so damn awesome. And so, on some level, we feel partly culpable. We always knew, or suspected, all of this was possible — and went on doing it anyway.

We know our cellphone signal lets us be tracked, which sometimes seems creepy, but seems excellent when you can activate “Find My Phone” to locate your iPhone in the cab where you dropped it last night, or find the best Japanese restaurant near your current location on Yelp. We all scream when Facebook changes its privacy settings without notice – but very few of us close our accounts in protest. We are tweeting our outrage from our Sprint smartphones, Googling to find out whether Sen. Obama really flip-flopped and voted to authorize the way the Bush administration was using FISA in 2008 (he did), then G-chatting with our editors about when we’re filing our stories on all of it.

There’s a strong Calvinist impulse in the American psyche: So often, Americans blame themselves for their troubles. If I worked harder, maybe I wouldn’t have lost my job. I should have stayed in school. If I hadn’t gotten so drunk, I wouldn’t have been date-raped. If I wasn’t strutting all over social media like a strumpet, and so tied to my iPhone, addicted to my email, they wouldn’t have so much data on me. We shouldn’t have walked down that dark data alley; it’s not like we weren’t warned.

G6dDtAgain, it’s like people have the sense of something going all wrong but have their focus on the wrong thing.  Walsh talks about the blinders of partisan democrats above.  Republicans have a brand that denies more of reality.  Lloyd Green–at the Daily Beast–calls it a “Modernity Gap”.

… a report issued this week by the College Republican National Committee, Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation, indicted the Republicans for being “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned;” for singularly attacking government; for hostility toward gay marriage, and for acting like the “stupid party.” But too many in the GOP seem to embrace that label.

Limiting the evidence to just the past two weeks, Exhibit No. 1: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a GOP member of House Judiciary Committee, told a witness — who had ended her pregnancy after having been advised that the fetus was brain dead, that she should have carried the “child” to term.

Exhibit No. 2: Erik Erickson, the founder of RedState, mansplained to Fox News’ incredulous Megyn Kelly this week that “when you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society, and other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.”

Exhibit No. 3: Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s first-term governor, blamed working mothers for American illiteracy.

Exhibit No. 4, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss attributed rape in the armed forces to hormones.”

The real problem, though, is not stray and scatterred comments. Rather it is that such comments speak to the party’s discomfort with modernity.

Notice how much of these examples are aimed at women and have a distinct religious fanaticism about them. I wanted to actually not make this a depressing post, but I find myself ending with more than a bit of a nihilistic headline from Noam Chomsky who asks: “Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?” However, his post looks at places where people are doing something.

In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars.  In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences.  In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand.  The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil.  He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting.  Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer.  Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product.  In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use.  That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer.  You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background.  Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

Perhaps it is time we here in the US took similar action.  Rather than accepting this march to the destruction of our privacy, our identities and our freedoms, we should do what we can where we are.   Here are the things we need to change via Robert Reich.  Most are the result of the Reagan mindset that our government is the problem.  However, his list shows that the red states are getting worse while the blue states are showing signs of moving the other direction.  Is geography destiny in this country once again?

Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.

Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”

But the trend raises three troubling issues.

First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.

Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one states is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.
Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.
A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.

Just some things to think about.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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97 Comments on “Monday Reads”

  1. ecocatwoman says:

    Dak, thanks for starting with the Bunch article from philly.com. I just read it this morning from your link in BB’s post last night. It’s simply the best piece of journalism that I’ve read (except here at SD) in a long, long time. I’m going to repost my comment here from BB’s post:

    That piece is beyond good, it’s fantastic. Tying together the Philly building collapse, shutting down of Philly schools, the Santa Monica shooting & the NSA leaks – this is what journalism should be. Bunch succinctly defines the difference between “the people” & those in power. It makes me think that the bickering, name-calling, finger pointing in DC is an orchestrated performance meant as a distraction to the daily theft of the people’s power/privacy/autonomy. We are the patsies while our pockets, so to speak, are being picked. We are being punked by our gov’t.

    • dakinikat says:

      Great thought! We are being fleeced daily

    • cygnus says:

      I wish the national discussion about privacy/data collection overreach would include the horrid uptick in policy of police brutality and excessive use of force. It goes hand in hand, and together makes the Orwellian nightmare this much closer to becoming our daily reality. Tie that up with the ribbon of what is happening to education and the collapse of the middle class..and, well, I’m kind of heading for the ledge myself..

  2. Yeah, that post by Bunch was excellent. Just added him to my newsblur reader…

    I have two links for you. This one that Digby linked to last night: Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education

    And this one that Juan Cole posted early this morning on his blog: Its the Corporations, Stupid: Why we are 2nd Amendment Fundamentalists but the 4th Amendment doesn’t Count | Informed Comment

    I am still confused about this Snowden thing, but like Mona said last night:

    “Just because you’re paranoid…
    …doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

    • RalphB says:

      The 4th Amendment should count but not just from government intrusions on privacy, It should also count when companies like Google and Facebook collect information on people. Corporations having all that data is just as creepy as the NSA to me.

      • ecocatwoman says:

        Totally agree. In fact, I was wondering whether it’s really the corporations who are having the data collected for them, under the guise of the NSA. Maybe corporations aren’t quite that ensconced in our governance, but I don’t think it’s a far-fetched thought.

        • RalphB says:

          Google collects their own, I think, and you don’t have to use any Google product for them to do it. Even sites which use Google ads etc will throw their tracking cookie on your PC and collect your browsing history etc them send it to the mother ship. Your credit card history is also not private, ie: buy a baby product with your credit/debit card and within a week or so you will receive emails with coupons for other baby products. It’s all very creepy now.

          • NW Luna says:

            In Europe they have a “opt-in” system for junk mail. Here, of course, it’s an alleged “opt-out” system. Except most never honor your request to get off their ‘effin email or snail mail list.

      • janicen says:

        More creepy, in my opinion. We have some say in who runs our government. We are powerless against corporations.

        • RalphB says:

          Good point!

        • I don’t know…it’s serving oligarchy in the end. The illusion of a “two party choice” in the last decade at least has all served the corporate America/multinational agenda, and the private fundraising machinery all funnels money back in to perpetuate the policies that perpetuate the corporate hegemony.

          • Endless vicious cycle….if we’re not being spied on here, we’re being spied on there. Honestly it’s really we’re being spied on…everywhere. But they’re still not catching the terrorists and the mass shooters but they are figuring out which ads to target and bombard us with based on that personal message we typed on fb last night….

  3. Beata says:

    Nothing I have ever written about myself online is true. I am a pathological liar. I am also a man. I want to make that perfectly clear.

    I am currently staying in a hotel in Hong Kong, wearing a red hoodie.

    Have a nice day.

  4. RalphB says:

    LGF: Snowden Wanted the Washington Post to Vouch for Him With a “Foreign Embassy”

    A fascinating tidbit in the Washington Post’s latest story on NSA leaker Edward Snowden: Snowden wanted the Washington Post to publish online a cryptographic key that he could use to prove to a foreign embassy that he was the source of the documents…

  5. RalphB says:

    WaPo: Edward Snowden faces strong extradition treaty if he remains in Hong Kong

    He apparently checked out of his hotel Monday.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Saw this on Twitter this morning:

    If Snowden only worked for Booz Allen for 3 months, does that mean he got the job AFTER he started working with Greenwald?

    • RalphB says:

      Poitras was Gellman’s co-author of the WaPo story and is a noted activist, So I guess basically she and Greenwald did both stories and amplified the head explosions?

    • RalphB says:

      Apparently so or at the same time. Before Booz Allen, he may have been working for Dell and they do PC stuff though as an admin he would still have had some access. I now wonder if he used his admin job to get information by hacking a cleared person’s PC and accessing data that way?

      • bostonboomer says:

        Something seems off about this to me. I wonder where Snowden went after leaving the hotel?

        • RalphB says:

          Good question. This thing stinks like a dead mackerel in the moonlight, to use a Bill Weldism.

        • Beata says:

          Greenwald ( who is in Hong Kong now ) just told Amy Goodman that he knows where Snowden is but he ain’t tellin’.

        • cygnus says:

          I was scratching my head about these things:

          If you are hiding out, why do you have a film crew pile in to the hotel room you took out in your own name, film identifying items like drapes and room layout etc, and then mention where in HK the hotel is by pointing out a landmark?
          Why include stupid details like pillows against the door and red hoods to shield computer passwords, if you are basically going to broadcast your location anyway?

          And still, all this aside, to me the important thing is getting global attention on this general
          trend in corporate/government collusion, secrecy and power grab. Even if this is some kind of “disinformation” ploy, the good news is, people across a broad political spectrum are uniting in the recognition that constitutional rights are being threatened and actively violated.

          There has to be some benefit in that, right?

      • bostonboomer says:

        A cleared person? He claims he had top secret access.

        • Beata says:

          He’s CIA. Why would he need a “cleared person”? And why does it matter where he was working and when? These jobs are all fronts.

          • bostonboomer says:

            He left the CIA, but he still said he had top secret clearance–and so do hundreds of thousands of outside contractors–I posted a link about it last night.

            Beata, I can’t explain it but I just have a bad feeling about this guy. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel as if I have to reserve judgment until I see more of what he has leaked. The Guardian will be having lots more articles–I know that.

            Another thing, Gellman said the slides the WaPo and Guardian DIDN’T publish needed to be kept secret. So what does that say about Snowden’s claims that he went through everything to make sure he didn’t reveal anything that would hurt national security?

          • Beata says:

            You don’t leave the CIA.

          • bostonboomer says:

            You don’t? So is Larry Johnson still in the CIA with top level clearance? I sure hope not!

          • Beata says:

            Don’t know about Larry Johnson’s security clearance level. But through NQ, he has been able to disseminate a lot of misinformation and collect data about people who visit his site. Things are rarely what they appear to be with spooks.

          • That site has always been very shiny from all the tinfoil trappings

          • Hey don’t you all watch Burn Notice? It’s easy…just stop at your local hardware store stock up on a few items and then get your sexy ex-IRA girlfriend and the most awesome Bruce Campbell (cause he is my own personal superman) to assist you in your covert operation.

        • RalphB says:

          “Top Secret” clearance doesn’t mean a great deal. It’s a category with different levels inside and all of them are usually based on a “need to know”. That’s what I meant by properly cleared person.

          I know because I once held a very high level top secret clearance.

          • Beata says:

            I never would have guessed that, Ralph. :wink:

          • bostonboomer says:

            Ralph,

            I’m so glad you’re here to help us put things in perspective. I admit I have just about zero knowledge of this stuff.

          • RalphB says:

            Having that clearance was a pain. I wasn’t supposed to leave the US for 20 years after without permission of the government, through the state dept.

          • Wow! Pardon my English, but that sucks

          • janicen says:

            Although, clearance to do contract work at NSA is a comparatively high level. I know someone who had a security clearance to do some gov’t work but then had to get an additional level to allow him to work at NSA.

  7. RalphB says:

    TPM: Sen. Angus King: ‘I Certainly Wasn’t Shocked’ By NSA Revelations

    I think I like this new senator from Maine.

    • 2) Among the strongest arguments against a surveillance state is that it depends on the subjective judgment of its millions of employees (a) to be applied without over-reach or abuse, or (b) to exist at all. One 29-year-old has just demonstrated the second point. Edward Snowden didn’t like the way the system worked, and so he has effectively blown it up. The bigger problem may be with the first point, option (a) — people who think there should be more intrusiveness or prying. The Founders’ fundamental concern, often distilled as “If men were angels…”, was to avoid giving anyone powers that, in the wrong hands, could be abused. The surveillance state is giving too many people too much power — either to destroy its workings, as Snowden has tried to do, or to abuse and extend them.

      Fallows makes an astute point here.

      • bostonboomer says:

        But here is the reality. Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It is part of China — a country that by the libertarian standards Edward Snowden says he cares about is worse, not better, than the United States. China has even more surveillance of its citizens (it has gone very far toward ensuring that it knows the real identity of everyone using the internet); its press is thoroughly government-controlled; it has no legal theory of protection for free speech; and it doesn’t even have national elections. Hong Kong lives a time-limited separate existence, under the “one country, two systems” principle, but in a pinch, it is part of China.

        I don’t know all the choices Snowden had about his place of refuge. Maybe he thought this was his only real option. But if Snowden thinks, as some of his comments seem to suggest, that he has found a bastion of freer speech, then he is ill-informed; and if he knowingly chose to make his case from China he is playing a more complicated game.

      • cygnus says:

        Yes, indeed.

        I stumbled on this blog (which I love! Thanks!) during the Boston bombing craziness–during which we watched close to 10,000 heavily armed and armored totally militarized police and three-letter-agencies turn the Boston metro area into a combat zone and establish martial law. We watched citizens being told to stay in their homes which were then systematically raided–all of which sounded maybe okayish from one POV (The Lone TeenTerrorist Is At Large! Help Us Out!)

        But then we saw these same citizens being escorted out of their houses during the searching *at gunpoint* with their hands raised to their heads as if they were the criminals.
        That image is burned into my head and is one of the things that makes me *not* feel like using language like “Stasi” is over the top. SIx months ago, I might have. Now…not so much…

        (P.S. Whatever happened with Naked Arrested Man?)

  8. Beata says:

    My computer keeps shutting off ( really ). It doesn’t like it when I mention the CIA.

    See ya’ later, guys!