Tuesday Reads: Larry Klayman v. NSA; CBS’ 60 Minutes v. Truth; and Police v. Foreign Diplomats

Out of Town News, Harvard Square, 1957

Out of Town News, Harvard Square, 1957

Good Morning!!

Our weird winter weather is continuing. This morning’s temperature outside my house is zero degrees! And we’re expecting five more inches of snow this afternoon, most of it during the afternoon rush hour. I guess all I can do is grin and bear it.

Now let’s see what’s happening in the news today.

Lots of people are excited about the ruling yesterday by US District Court Judge Richard Leon that NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is “likely unconstitutional,” but the decision is on hold pending appeal by the Feds and as Reuters notes this morning, SCOTUS is probably going to have the final say on what happens to NSA surveillance programs following revelations from the massive trove of data stolen by Edward Snowden and passed to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

“This is the opening salvo in a very long story, but it’s important symbolically in dispelling the invincibility of the metadata program,” said Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert at the American University law school.

Vladeck said 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have examined Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the provision of law under which the data collection takes place, without finding constitutional problems. “There’s a disconnect between the 15 judges on the FISA court who seem to think it’s a no-brainer that Section 215 is constitutional, and Judge Leon, who seems to think otherwise.”

Vladeck said there is a long road of court tests ahead for both sides in this dispute and said a higher court ultimately could avoid ruling on the big constitutional issue identified by Leon. “There are five or six different issues in these cases,” Vladeck said.

Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, predicted Leon’s decision was highly likely to be reversed on appeal. He said the collection of telephone metadata — the issue in Monday’s ruling — already has been addressed and resolved by the Supreme Court.

Maybe the solution would be to repeal the Patriot Act? Anyway, I think it’s important to note that this lawsuit was brought by Larry Klayman, a certified right wing nut who used to head Judicial Watch and now runs something called Freedom Watch.

larry Klayman

Here’s a little background on Klayman from The New York Times:

In the 1990s, he filed numerous lawsuits against President Bill Clinton and his administration, alleging a litany of personal and professional transgressions. Mr. Klayman later nettled Vice President Dick Cheney over his secret energy policy meetings and claimed that members of George W. Bush’s administration might have known in advance of the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington.

More recently, Mr. Klayman, who has been called “Litigious Larry,” sued OPEC, accusing oil-rich nations of price fixing and of trying to “bring Western economies to their knees.” And he sued Facebook and its founder for $1 billion when, he said, it was too slow to take down a web page that threatened Jews with death.

The guy is a weirdo, so I have to wonder what it was that convinced a conservative Bush-appointed judge like Leon. And will ne be able to convince our right wing Supreme Court? I’d love to see NSA reined in, but I have serious doubts as to whether it will happen.

More on Klayman:

Mr. Klayman is a fixture of sorts in Washington. He founded, and then parted ways, with the conservative interest group Judicial Watch, which continues litigating grievances despite Mr. Klayman’s bitter departure. (He sued Judicial Watch, too, accusing it of breach of contract and other offenses.) His 2009 book is titled “Whores: Why and How I Came to Fight the Establishment.”

Mr. Klayman has not spared the current Democratic administration. At a Tea Party rally in October, he urged conservatives “to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

Last year, Mr. Klayman filed a lawsuit in Florida arguing that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because “neither Mr. Obama, nor the Democratic Party of Florida, nor any other group has confirmed that Mr. Obama is a ‘natural born citizen’ since his father was a British subject born in Kenya and not a citizen of the United States.”

 A little more on the case from Politico:

On June 6, just a day after the Guardian report [on Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA phone data collection], Klayman filed suit in Washington on his own behalf and on behalf of two clients — Charles and Mary Ann Strange, parents of a Navy SEAL killed in a disastrous helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011….

Klayman said he and Charles Strange were being targeted by the government because of their claims relating to Strange’s son’s death, which include a complaint that a Muslim imam cursed the dead SEAL team members during a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base.

“My colleagues have received text messages I never sent,” Klayman told the judge. “I think they’re messing with me,” he said, referring to the government.

Klayman implored the judge to rule against the NSA program not only on legal grounds but in order to avert what the conservative gadfly said was a violent revolution on the verge of breaking out due to the federal governments [sic] unbridled use of power.

“We live in an Orwellian state,” Klayman said, warning that citizens angry about surveillance were about to “rise up.”

If litigation fails, “the only alternative is for people to take matters into their own hands,” he told Leon.

I wonder what parts of these arguments convinced Judge Leon?

Despite the weirdness, Charles Pierce is cheering Leon’s decision:

No matter what you think of Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald, and no matter what you think of what they did, this ruling does not happen if the NSA doesn’t let a contractor walk out of the joint with the family jewels on a flash drive. This ruling does not happen if we do not know what we now know, and we don’t know any of that unless Snowden gathers the data and leaks it to the Guardian. This entire country was founded after a revolution that was touched off to a great extent by the concept of individual privacy.

Read all about it at the Esquire link.

I know it’s difficult for some males to understand this, but if Americans do have a right to privacy, then American women should also have that right in making decisions about what happens to their bodies–they should be able to choose whether or not and/or when to have a child. Therefore, they should have access to birth control and abortion without the interference of the state. If women–who represent more than 1/2 of the U.S. population–can’t have privacy; then there is a very big disconnect in the law that needs to be clarified. Are women people? Are they citizens? Griswald and Roe were also decided on the basis of privacy.

Lara_Logan_crop

After their fluff piece on NSA on Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes announced yesterday that Lara Logan, who was “suspended” after she hosted an utterly false report on the Benghazi attacks, will be returning to the program next year. Politico’s Dylan Byers:

Logan and McClellan took leave following public pressure over an Oct. 27 report in which security contractor Dylan Davies claimed to have been present and active at the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Reports later indicated that Davies had told both his contractor and the FBI that he was not present at the compound on the night of the attack. Logan later apologized and “60 Minutes” retracted the story.

Despite public criticism and internal frustrations among some members of the “60 Minutes” team, CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager decided to stand by Logan. Earlier this month, he held a meeting with CBS News staff in which he defended the 42-year-old journalist, saying that as EP he was ultimately responsible for failing to catch the mistake.

As an antidote, I recommend reading TBogg’s take on this decision at Raw Story: Lara Logan is tan, rested and ready to come back and be kind of bad at her job again.

Last week, it was revealed that LA Sheriff’s Office deputies who have been indicted by a Grand Jury had illegally arrested and “roughed up” two foreign diplomats in 2011. From the LA Times:

An Austrian consulate official was improperly arrested and searched by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies at the Men’s Central Jail, according to four indictments filed against 18 department officials.

The incident occurred in 2011 when the official and her husband were visiting an inmate who was an Austrian national….

The Austrian consul’s husband was arrested outside the jail because he had walked near the doors going into the visiting center, according to one of the indictments unsealed Monday.

When the consul requested to speak to a supervisor about her husband’s arrest, she too was placed in handcuffs and arrested, even though she had committed no crime and would have been immune from prosecution, the indictment said.

The couple were taken to a deputy break room and searched, the indictment said.

Read more details at the link. And from Firedoglake, Peter Van Buren explains why this is so outrageous:

One of the primary jobs for any embassy or consulate abroad is the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, many of the first diplomatic outposts abroad were set up to protect sailors and merchants. This work typically includes visiting one’s citizens in foreign jails, a task young diplomats around the world conduct. As a State Department foreign service officer myself for 24 years, I must have done this hundreds of times. But no matter how many times I did it, it was always an unsettling feeling to walk into a jail, go through security into a cell or holding room, and then walk back out.

Getting out, and being treated properly inside, was however more than an act of faith on my part. Diplomats abroad are protected people; under both formal treaties and long-established traditions (“diplomatic immunity”), a country should not mess around with another’s diplomats. Take a look at Iran– over thirty years since the kidnapping of American diplomats in Tehran, our two countries still are a long, long way from reestablishing relations.

I once safely visited in an underground facility of an Asian country’s secret police an American Citizen who likely had been tortured. The system generally works everywhere, from first world countries to crappy police states in the developing world. However, one rough area where it does not work is in Los Angeles.

Please read the rest if you can.

Devyani Khobragade

Today we learn that the NYPD also abused a foreign diplomat. The woman, a deputy consul general at the Indian embassy in NYC was arrested and handcuffed on the street and then subjected to a strip search at police headquarters. From The Guardian:

Bulldozers have removed security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi as a diplomatic row prompted by the arrest of an Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges in New York intensified.

Devyani Khobragade, India‘s deputy consul general in New York, was charged last week with making false statements on an application for her housekeeper to live and work in the United States.

India’s national security adviser on Tuesday called the treatment of Khobragade “despicable and barbaric” and the country’s foreign secretary summoned the US ambassador. Politicians – including Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and vice chairman of the ruling Congress party, and Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist opposition BJP – refused to meet a visiting US congressional delegation.

The removal of the barriers was one of a slew of retaliatory actions taken by the Indian government as outrage at the arrest grew, including the withdrawal of import clearances and special airport passes. The incident has become a major story in India, dominating TV bulletins.

The false statements were that Khobragade had agreed to pay the housekeeper the New York minimum wage ($9.25), but had agreed privately with the woman that her actual salary would be only 1/3 that amount.

From NDTV All India:

Furious with the US for the arrest and alleged strip search of its high-ranking diplomat Devyani Khobragade, India today retaliated with a slew of measures to pare down the privileges of American diplomats. (10 latest developments)

US diplomats in consulates across India have been asked to surrender identity cards issued to them and their families, which entitle them to special privileges. India has also withdrawn all airport passes for consulates and import clearances for the embassy.

The Delhi police removed barricades outside the sprawling US embassy in the capital.

Ms Khobragade was subjected to a humiliating strip search and was kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest for alleged visa fraud in New York last week. (Read) Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the US State Department, told NDTV that standard procedures had been followed during Ms Khobragade’s arrest.

The US has implied that she enjoyed only limited immunity.

As part of its reciprocal measures, India is asking for details like salaries paid to Indian staff employed in US consulates, including those working as domestic helps with the families of American officials.

It seems that, between the NSA revelations and the increasing use of police state tactics by law enforcement, the US is managing to alienate much of the rest of  all the world.

I’m out of space, so I’ll wrap this up. Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a great day!


Election Day Reads: Four More Years!

Good Morning!!

The big day is finally here. I voted In Massachusetts by absentee ballot shortly after I got to Indiana. I voted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice President, and for Elizabeth Warren for Senator. I voted for my long-time Representative Ed Markey. I also voted in favor of ballot questions on legalizing physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana in Massachusetts.

In 2008, I didn’t care much for Barack Obama, because I didn’t think he had any real ideology and I didn’t trust him to stand up to the Republicans. But I have to admit that he accomplished some good things in his first term.

I still have plenty of problems with President Obama’s policies. I think he should have fought harder for a bigger stimulus and for a public health care option. I think the President should have made a much more serious effort to deal with the foreclosure crisis, prosecute the banksters who brought down our economy, and create jobs through government investment.

I strongly disapprove of Obama’s support for the Patriot Act and for his use of drones to assassinate suspected “terrorists”–along with many innocent civilians–in several foreign countries. I’m glad he found Osama bin Laden, but I think he should have been arrested and put on trial instead of being summarily executed.

On the other hand, the stimulus–though not large enough–did help state and local governments save and create jobs. I think the auto bailout was absolutely necessary and it seems to have saved and created jobs for many U.S. workers. I appreciate that President Obama reversed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and came out in support of same-sex marriage. I believe that this president has grown in office and that he now recognizes that the Republicans in Congress are never going to compromise with him.

I also think President Obama did a very smart thing in appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and giving full control over the State Department. Many of Obama’s advisers didn’t want him to appoint Hillary, but he did it anyway. I respect that Obama has asked for Bill Clinton’s help during the past couple of years and has wholeheartedly thanked him for his efforts.

We now face a choice between a President who kept us out of another Great Depression, managed to pass a health care law that is at least a step in the right direction, and appears to have grown in office, and a man who is a pathological liar and race baiter who represents the top 1%–the people who got us into the financial crisis in the first place; who conceals his highly suspect finances and potential conflicts of interest; who refuses to spell out what he would do if elected, who treats the electorate with utter disrespect, and who clearly has no understanding of or interest in what it is like to be poor, or even middle class. We do know that, if elected, Mitt Romney would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would very likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Voting Rights Act, and other important progressive court decisions.

Obama must be reelected or our country will be be in deep deep trouble.

If Obama wins reelection, I think we must continue to be eternally vigilant. I strongly suspect that he will push for what he calls a “grand bargain,” which is really a “great betrayal.” We cannot let his desire to “reach across the aisle” lead him to accede to the Republicans’ austerity agenda and trade away the social safety net that allows so many elderly, disabled, and poor people to live with some kind of dignity.

Just in my lifetime, the American people have lived through many difficult times politically. Our rights were threatened and curtailed in the McCarthy era, we faced the murder of President John F. Kennedy, and later the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. We dealt with Watergate, Iran Contra, and 9/11. For the past thirty years we’ve faced increasing income inequality and reduced opportunities for upward mobility. Our rights have been threatened anew by fundamentalist crazies and by Bush’s “war on terror.”

Democracy isn’t easy. It’s very hard, as we have seen in the past week watching people in Ohio and Florida struggling to exercise their rights to vote and over the past couple of years as we watched Republican legislatures try restrict voting rights and take away women’s control over their own bodies and their health care choices.

But we can’t quit. We must fight on to make this country a place we can be proud of and a place where our children and grandchildren can have decent lives. We have to try. If Obama is reelected, we have a chance. If Romney wins, we go back to the Bush years–on steroids.

I’ve gone on a rant now and taken up a lot of space in this post, but I wanted to express how I feel about this election. Over the past four years, I’ve realized that we really can’t have perfection–only progress, if we work at it. President Obama has made some progress, and in a second term, he can be pushed to make more. I’m glad I decided to vote for him.

I do have some news items for you.

Unfortunately, the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy last week are facing a nor’easter this week.

Storm-savaged New Yorkers still drying out and rebuilding their lives after the fury of Hurricane Sandy face another nightmare barreling up the East Coast — an angry nor’easter packing winds of 55 mph hour that’s expected to pummel the area on Wednesday.

Forecasters say the latest assault from Mother Nature — while not nearly as ferocious or crippling as the Oct. 29 superstorm — is expected to bring renewed coastal flooding to parts of the city and the New Jersey shore, where Sandy obliterated protective sand dunes and age-old natural beach defenses.

New power outages could strike still-ravaged swaths of Staten Island, the Bronx and Westchester — and possibly “undo” some of the repairs Con Ed has made to its battered system, said John Miksad, the utility’s senior vice president of electric operations….

Meteorologists expect howling winds whipping up to 3 inches of rain along the Northeastern shoreline late Wednesday afternoon. Then it may get worse: Forecasters also fear a bone-chilling cold by Thursday morning that could bring several inches of snow to New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

Dana Millbank says that a new Romney has suddenly emerged in the final days of the campaign. What number incarnation is this?

As he made his closing appeal to voters on the final day before the election, Mitt Romney sounded as though, at any moment, he might burst into a song from the musical “Annie.”

“Tomorrow’s a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we get to work rebuilding our country, restoring our confidence and renewing our conviction.”

“Tomorrow, on November 6th, we come together for a better future.”

“Tomorrow is a new beginning. Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.”

As usual, Romney is talking ragtime–making no sense whatsoever. Either he really believes he’ll win the election, or he’s just blabbering aimlessly waiting for his dream to die. The death stench must be unbearable for anyone who gets close to him.

Still, despite Millbank’s claims, the mean Romney still lives on. His campaign is making robocalls calling President Obama a ‘Threat To Our Religious Freedom.’ Here’s the transcript of the call:

Christians who are thinking about voting for Obama should remember what he said about people of faith: “They … cling to guns or religion.” And remember when Obama forced Christian organizations to provide insurance coverage that was contrary to their religious beliefs?
That’s the real Barack Obama. That’s the real threat to our religious freedom. Mitt Romney understands the importance of faith and family. That’s why so many leaders of the Christian community are supporting Romney.

They know we can’t underestimate the threat Barack Obama poses to our faith, our values, our freedom.

So once again, Romney is playing the race card, suggesting that Obama is not a real American and that he’s lying about his religious beliefs.

Paul Ryan expressed something similar on a conference call with members of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Representative Paul D. Ryan accused President Obama on Sunday of taking the country down a path that compromised Judeo-Christian values and the traditions of Western civilization….

“It’s a dangerous path,” Mr. Ryan said, describing Mr. Obama’s policies. “It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”’

A spokesman for Mr. Ryan, Michael Steel, said, “He was talking about issues like religious liberty and Obamacare – topics he has mentioned frequently during the campaign.”

Sigh… if only we could be rid of Ryan tomorrow, but I suppose he’ll be back in Congress if Romney loses.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to appear at a campaign event with Mitt Romney on Sunday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was effusive in his praise of President Barack Obama when the two leaders toured damage from Hurricane Sandy last week, turned down a request by Mitt Romney to appear with him at a rally on Sunday night in Pennsylvania, The Huffington Post has learned.

Christie’s decision will only add to questions among Republicans about what the governor — who is up for reelection a year from now — is thinking, and why he went out of his way to heap praise on the president, and then refused to appear with Romney.

The Romney rally was held at a farm in Morrisville, Pa., not more than 20 minutes from Trenton, the New Jersey capital. The physical proximity of the event to New Jersey only added to questions in the Romney campaign about why Christie chose not to come.

“You can’t tell me he couldn’t have gone over there for a night rally,” a Romney campaign source told HuffPost.

Meanwhile Christie’s new BFF Barack Obama made Christie’s dream come true: Chris Christie moved to tears by hug from Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Monday that he was moved to tears by recent interactions with singer Bruce Springsteen, who hugged the governor at a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Friday and spoke with Christie by phone on Monday while flying aboard Air Force One with President Obama.

Christie, a Republican, is an ardent fan of Springsteen, a noted liberal who was traveling with the president to Columbus, Ohio, after playing at an Obama rally in Madison, Wis. Christie said during a press briefing that Obama called during the flight to discuss New Jersey’s recovery from Sandy and then handed the phone to Springsteen.

“[Obama] told me in times of real difficulty, he thought that the only thing better than one Jersey guy were two Jersey guys, and he put Bruce Springsteen on the phone,” Christie said.

“Bruce said to me how proud he was of his state and how proud he was of the people of this state and how tough they are,” Christie added. “And he’ll be back to the Jersey Shore soon.”

I can’t help but be happy for the guy. Will he be running against Hillary Clinton in 2016? Who knows? I just hope that sometime tonight we’ll know whether we’ll have an Obama second term or two pathological liars running the country back into the ditch.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! Let’s see what’s in the news today.

Mitt Romney has been whining about the “liberal media” giving him a hard time, but a new Pew survey has found that the “liberal media” are friendlier to Mitt Romney than President Obama. Adam Serwer at Mother Jones:

The Liberal Media has consistently given more positive coverage to likely Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared to President Barack Obama, according to a new survey of media coverage from the Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project.

During the early weeks of 2012, Romney’s media coverage was slightly negative—between January 2 and February 26, 33 percent of the stories about the ex-Massachusetts governor were positive and 37 percent were negative, according to Pew’s analysis. But Romney has received mostly positive coverage since then (47 percent positive to 24 percent negative). By contrast, according to the report, President Barack Obama “did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage.”

Check out the full report at the Pew link.

Florida Rep. Allen West was booted from an NAACP fund-raiser because of his claim that around 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives are card-carrying members of the Communist Party.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) was supposed to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for his district chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) this past Saturday. But days before the event, the group canceled the gathering and asked West not to come back when they rescheduled. Why?

“There’s a certain statement he made about Communists,” Jerry Gore, president of the Martin County NAACP, told Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. “That statement alone … we do not represent that type of atmosphere.”

But that didn’t keep West from making more ludicrous remarks. Yesterday, he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is “being allowed to influence strategy.”

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) criticized the FBI on Monday for removing nearly 900 pages of training material it deemed to be offensive, saying it showed extremist Muslim groups were influencing national strategy.

The FBI made the move after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) complained about some passages, including one that advised agents to “never attempt to shake hands with an Asian” and another that said agents should expect “outbursts” from Arab minds.

West said that by removing such passages, the FBI was committing “cultural suicide” and allowing groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to influence U.S. policy.

“We have to understand that when tolerance becomes a one-way street it leads to cultural suicide,” West told “Fox and Friends” on Monday. “We should not allow the Muslim Brotherhood or associated groups to be influencing our national strategy.”

When asked if he believed those groups were influencing U.S. strategy, West responded, “Oh, absolutely,” and cited the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting report that didn’t mention the suspect’s Muslim faith as a potential motive for the killings.

In another throwback to the McCarthy era, a few days ago Bill O’Reilly accused Robert Reich of being a communist.

Yesterday, Reich responded: Communist Accusations Matter.

For the record, I’m not a communist and I don’t secretly adore Karl Marx.

Ordinarily I don’t bother repeating anything Bill O’Reilly says. But this particular whopper is significant because it represents what O’Reilly and Fox News, among others, are doing to the national dialogue….

O’Reilly based his claim on an interview I did last week with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, in which I argued that because America’s big corporations were now global we could no longer rely on them to make necessary investments in human capital or to lobby for public investments in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D. So, logically, government has to step in.

Since when does an argument for public investment in education, infrastructure, and basic R&D make someone a communist or a secret adorer of Karl Marx?

Since the Tea Party crazies crawled out from under their rocks and took over the Republican Party, I guess. I sure wish they’d crawl back where they came from.

Now this is refreshing. Sen. Tom Harken defended Social Security in the Huffington Post yesterday, and proposed some solutions to future problems:

To strengthen America’s retirement system, my proposal would increase Social Security benefits and greatly improve the financial stability of the program. It does so by:

• Increasing the amount of earnings covered by higher replacement rates in order to increase benefits by approximately $60-70 per month
• Changing the way the COLA is calculated so that it better corresponds to the typical expenses of seniors
• Removing the cap, currently $110,100, that unfairly protects the highest earning Americans from paying into Social Security like the majority of hardworking Americans.

All told, according to the Social Security Actuary, this proposal would extend the life of the Social Security Trust Fund to 2052 while cutting the long term funding deficit in half.

I’m sure Mitt Romney will explain to Senator Harkin why it would be wrong to try to raise payroll taxes on high income “job creators.”

Speaking of Willard, the LA Times had an interesting story on Romney’s health care plan–they call it “revolutionary,” and not in a good way.

In public, Romney has only sketched the outlines of a plan, and aides have declined to answer questions about the details. But his public statements and interviews with advisors make clear that Romney has embraced a strategy that in crucial ways is more revolutionary — and potentially more disruptive — than the law Obama signed two years ago.

The centerpiece of Romney’s plan would overhaul the way most Americans get their health coverage: at work. He would do so by giving Americans a tax break to buy their own health plans. That would give consumers more choices, but also more risk.

Critics and independent analysts say the impact would probably leave a larger number of Americans without insurance.

In addition,

While offering consumers more choices, Romney’s plan would give companies strong incentives to stop providing insurance to workers. It also would overhaul the 46-year-old Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

The plan could swell the federal deficit; a similar plan backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 presidential campaign would have cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, on par with the price tag for the Obama healthcare law.

Romney keeps claiming he’s going to cut the deficit. Somehow I don’t think privatizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will do that. Maybe he thinks he can end those programs completely.

Democracy Now has been running a series on NSA spying. A good starting point is this article at Alternet: Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying — The U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails

National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney reveals he believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion “transactions” — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States.

While you’re at Alternet, here’s another article you should read: How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian’s Nightmare

When Barack Obama took office, he was the civil liberties communities’ great hope. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, pledged to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and run a transparent and open government. But he has become a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies, lending bipartisan support for a more intrusive and authoritarian federal government.

Please go read the whole thing and then check out Glenn Greenwald’s take on the story.

As I’m sure everyone here knows, we don’t live in a democracy anymore.

So what are you reading and blogging about today?


Broken Windows And The Stealing Of Hearts

Yesterday I read an interesting essay by William Black over at New Economic Perspectives.  In the essay, Black, who headed the forensic audit team during the S&L crisis, pulls forward the Broken Window Theory, a criminological model based on a simple and some have said simplistic idea.  The theory was introduced by James Q. Wilson and received a fair amount of popularity during the 1990s, particularly in conservative circles.

Readers might remember Rudy Giuliani’s ‘war against graffiti,’ his zero-tolerance campaign in NYC.  That effort, the elimination of the squeegee men and the crack down on street prostitution among other things were based on the broken window philosophy, which uses an abandoned building metaphor.

Imagine a building in any neighborhood [although Wilson focused exclusively on what he termed ‘blue-collar crime.’]  The first broken window of our abandoned building if left unrepaired sends a clear message to antisocial types:  no one cares about this building.  So, it’s open season on all the other windows, on anything of value that’s been left behind.  If the owner doesn’t care about the integrity of the building then the street tough is encouraged to vandalize and take whatever’s not nailed down.

The attitude feeds on itself or so the theory goes. Honest citizens are less likely to confront the petty thief, which only encourages others to act out in destructive, antisocial ways.  Honest citizens begin to feel overwhelmed and outnumbered and stop safeguarding their own neighborhoods.   What’s the point? they say.    No one cares.  Communities begin to self-destruct.

Now whether you buy into this crime theory or not, I think the metaphor holds when you consider what we’ve been witnessing in the degradation of our financial markets, our legal system, even the refusal to admit that ‘there’s trouble in River City.’

As Professor Black points out, if we were to take Wilson’s theory and apply it to the explosion of ‘white collar crime’ within our financial system, it would be a major step in restoring the integrity of our system and bolstering peer pressure against misconduct.   As it stands now, Wall Street movers and shakers and their DC handmaidens have implemented business-as-usual policies that reward the thief and punish the whistleblower.  As Black points out in the essay:

We have adopted executive and professional compensation systems that are exceptionally criminogenic. We have excused and ignored the endemic “earnings management” that is the inherent result of these compensation policies and the inherent degradation of professionalism that results from allowing CEOs to create a Gresham’s dynamic among appraisers, auditors, credit rating agencies, and stock analysts. The intellectual father of modern executive compensation, Michael Jensen, now warns about his Frankenstein creation. He argues that one of our problems is dishonesty about the results. Surveys indicate that the great bulk of CFOs claim that it is essential to manipulate earnings. Jensen explains that the manipulation inherently reduces shareholder value and insists that it be called “lying.” I have seen Mary Jo White, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who now defends senior managers, lecture that there is “good” “earnings management.”

My husband had some unsettling experience in this area.  Early in his career, he worked as a CPA [the two companies will remain nameless].  But in each case, he was ‘asked’ to clean up the numbers, make them look better than they were.  He refused and found himself on the street, looking for employment elsewhere.  I remember him saying at the time, ‘Look, I’m a numbers guy.  I’ve never been good at fiction writing.’  This was back in the late 70s early 80s, so this attitude has been a long time in the making.  Now, we’re seeing accounting fraud that is literally off the charts.  Is it any wonder the country’s financial system is on life support?

We can see the destructive results of this careless, corrupt posturing all around us.  Professor Black continued:

Fiduciary duties are critical means of preventing broken windows from occurring and making it likely that any broken windows in corporate governance will soon be remedied, yet we have steadily weakened fiduciary duties. For example, Delaware now allows the elimination of the fiduciary duty of care as long as the shareholders approve. Court decisions have increasingly weakened the fiduciary duties of loyalty and care. The Chamber of Commerce’s most recent priorities have been to weaken Sarbanes-Oxley and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We have made it exceptionally difficult for shareholders who are victims of securities fraud to bring civil suits against the officers and entities that led or aided and abetted the securities fraud. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA) has achieved its true intended purpose – making it exceptionally difficult for shareholders who are the victims of securities fraud to bring even the most meritorious securities fraud action.

Reading this, I immediately sensed we could apply the metaphor just as easily to our legal predicament.  Dak wrote to this yesterday—about the disheartening disrepair of our justice system, which was badly wounded during the Bush/Cheney years with the help of eager lawyers like John Yoo, stretching, reinterpreting, rewriting the parameters on the subjects of torture, indefinite detention, rendition, etc.

Not to be outdone, Eric Holder stood before Northwestern University’s Law School the other day and with the same twisted logic, explained away due process, otherwise known as ‘how to justify assassination.’  In this case, American citizens, those the President deems are a threat to the Nation, can be killed on native ground or foreign soil. Jonathon Turley, law professor at George Washington University and frequent legal commentator in the media, headed a recent blog post as follows:  Holder Promises to Kill Citizens with Care.

Sorry, this does not make me feel better.  What it does make me think is lawlessness simply breeds more lawlessness.  The Broken Window theory writ large.  As Turley explained:

The choice of a law school was a curious place for discussion of authoritarian powers. Obama has replaced the constitutional protections afforded to citizens with a “trust me” pledge that Holder repeated yesterday at Northwestern. The good news is that Holder promised not to hunt citizens for sport.

Holder proclaimed that “The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war — even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen.” The use of the word “abroad” is interesting since senior Administration officials have asserted that the President may kill an American anywhere and anytime, including the United States. Holder’s speech does not materially limit that claimed authority. He merely assures citizens that Obama will only kill those of us he finds abroad and a significant threat. Notably, Holder added “Our legal authority is not limited to the battlefields in Afghanistan.”

Turley went on to comment that Holder was vague, to say the least, when it came to the use of these ‘new’ governmental/executive powers, claiming that the powers-that-be will only kill citizens when:

“the consent of the nation involved or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.”

And as far as ‘due process?”  Holder declared that:

“a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to ‘due process.’”

Chilling!  As Turley grimly noted in an earlier post, this is no longer the land of the free.

Seemingly unrelated was this report from the New York Times: the heart of Dublin’s 12th-century patron saint was stolen earlier this week from Christ’s Church Cathedral.  The heart of Laurence O’Toole had been housed in a heart-shaped box, safely secured [or so church authorities believed] within an iron cage.  The relic’s disappearance was preceded by a rash of reliquary robberies from churches, monasteries and convents around Ireland.  According to the article:

The small cage hosting the heart-shaped box containing the relic was tucked away in an innocuous alcove at the side of a small altar. Visitors to the cathedral on Monday stared at the twisted bars and the empty space behind. The bars themselves were sundered evenly.

According to Dermot Dunne, dean of Christ Church, the box had lain undisturbed for centuries.  He had no idea why someone would take it.

Whether it’s the heart of a saint or the heart of a Nation, the theft is a grievous insult. The crime betrays the public trust and our basic sense of decency.  But the thieves of O’Tooles’s heart performed a curious act before exiting.

The Irish culprits lit candles at two of the Cathedral’s altars.  Which means the perpetrators possessed, at the very least, an ironic sense of tradition.

The same cannot be said of our homegrown hooligans. Crass greed and the lust for unlimited power have their own dark tradition.  As Americans, we do not expect vice to be confused with virtue.  In the past, we could not imagine a blatant disrespect for the Rule of Law–crimes ignored, excused, then openly declared necessary for whatever raison du moment.

Not here, we told ourselves repeatedly.  Not in the United States.

Perhaps, we should light candles of our own.  A small devotion for the lost and dying.