Tuesday: Something’s Gotta Give!

greta garbo reading

Good Morning!!

I’ve finally reached a point of such frustration with politics, with the do-nothing Congress, and the mostly unserious media, that I wonder if the bottleneck of corruption, incompetence, and stupidity in Washington DC will ever be broken.

Congress–particularly the Senate–is populated mostly with old, rich white men who work about two days a week at most and take so many vacations that it’s hard to keep track of when they’re actually on the job. When the rest of us have a day off, they get a week. And for major holidays like Christmas, they take a month. It’s sickening.

The Republican House spends its two days a week mostly taking votes to repeal or defund Obamacare or finding new ways to wage war on women’s individual freedom and autonomy. The rest of their time is spent trying to take food out of the mouths of poor children by cutting food stamps and other safety net programs. Then there are the states where Republican governors and legislatures are waging all-out war on women and pretty much anyone who isn’t in the top 1%.

Meanwhile, our roads and bridges are falling down all over the country. Can you imagine how many jobs the government could create by helping to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Not only that, but baby boomers like me could be put back to work helping in the schools. The government could create a WPA for the growing ranks of seniors instead of attacking us for collecting the Social Security and Medicare we’ve paid into for our entire lives!

Will the logjam ever break? Will we ever see the slightest focus on jobs and economic equality for the vast majority of Americans?

Back in 2000, after the Supreme Court designated George W. Bush as president, I despaired and ignored politics for awhile. But after 9/11 and the lies that dragged us into two wars that ended up being longer and more pointless than the war of my youth–Vietnam–I began to follow politics closely again. I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to pay attention to what was being done in our name. And I did.

I had gone back to college in 1993 and got into using computers again. In 1997, I started graduate school, and got my first PC and immediately got my cable company to hook it up to the internet. I joined internet mailing lists where I could discuss issues that interested me.

Around 2003, I heard about “weblogs,” and I set out to find some that discussed politics. Every day I read and commented at Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and dozens of other liberal blogs. Most of you know the rest. In 2008, I was driven off DK after I failed to drink the Obot Koolaid. I wrote for a small blog for a couple of years and then finally Dakinkat and I joined up here at Sky Dancing, along with Mona and JJ.

I’m here and I want to keep on writing here. I love learning about new subjects when I research news stories. But Goddammit, I want something new to happen. I want our government to be functional and have positive effects on my life and the lives of other ordinary people.

Back in 2008 I pretty much shut off the TV and focused on getting my news on the internet. But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been escaping into detective novels and watching old movies on the tube. It’s difficult to find things blog about when the news is the same every day–the war on women and working people and Congress refusing to lift a finger to improve the economic situation for the vast majority of Americans.

As you know, lately I’ve become fascinated by the case of Edward Snowden and his leaks about NSA spying. Previously, I had focused on the bombings that took place in Boston and that had led me to do a lot of research on Russia, where the accused bombers’ roots were. So when Snowden ended up in Russia, I had a little bit of background on the place.

When the NSA leaks first broke, I thought it was possible we might get some real movement on the issue of domestic spying, but once Snowden revealed himself the story became mostly about him and his mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald.

Now the Snowden story has also settled into a holding pattern. The Russians are enjoying playing with their new toy and sticking it to the Obama administration, and Greenwald isn’t even writing about leaks anymore. He just writes long, angry lectures about how Democrats and liberals are the root of all evil.

Speaking of libertarians, have you noticed the Ayn Rand crowd is taking over and brainwashing a lot of so-called “progressives?” Last week there was an effort to pass an amendment that would have prevented NSA from collecting any telephone metadata. Instead of having an intelligent discussion about how to carefully regulate electronic surveillance, we would have simply ended it–and gone back to where we were before 9/11 in terms of identifying terrorist threats.

That bill was named after an Ayn Rand worshipping wingnut from Michigan named Justin Amash whose goal is to remove all power from the Federal government except the power to control women’s bodies! Did you know that Amash wants to ban abortions as of three days after conception? This reactionary who is being called “the next Ron Paul” was actually named “Truthdigger of the week.” Are you kidding me?

Have we finally reached the point where the “progressives” of 2008 are joining with the anti-statist libertarians? Sorry, but I’m not down with that. I believe in government, and I believe we need a strong Federal government. I think the states have too much power over people’s lives right now. I think we need a national equal rights amendment to end the constant ridiculous efforts to control the lives of women and LGBT people!

Now I’ve ranted away much of the space for this post, and I haven’t really given you any news. I’m going to post a few links, and I will put up another post a little later on. And If you have any suggestions for how I can deal with my Political Affective Disorder, I’ll be very grateful to receive them.

President Obama has been trying to put some focus on economics, and will make his fourth speech on the topic today. A few links:

The Windsor Star– Analysis: Obama tries to shift focus to economy, faces withering Republican opposition

WSJ– Obama Economic Proposals Face Long Odds in Congress

Dean Baker– Cruel Arithmetic and President Obama’s Big Speech

The Hill– Obama to propose ‘grand bargain’ on jobs, corporate tax rates

Other News

Fox News– 8 injured, including 4 critically, after dozens of explosions rock central Florida propane plant

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker– Waiting for the Bradley Manning Verdict

Vanity Fair– Anthony Weiner’s Cringe-y New Sexts Reveal Request for “Daily Shoe Update”

USA Today– San Diego mayor wants taxpayers to foot legal bills

So…….. What’s new with you today? Are you frustrated, depressed, or perhaps inspired? What issues are you focusing on today? Please let me know in the comment thread.

Tuesday Morning Open Thread

Uncle Voyeur

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

Sorry I’m a little late this morning. I’m working on a post that I should have up soon. Meanwhile here’s a fresh thread to discuss the day’s news.

Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! Does anyone have a remedy for the sleepies? I recently finished a semester of teaching, and the last couple of days I’ve been extremely groggy. Yesterday I even slept until 10:30AM! It doesn’t help that we haven’t seen the sun in the Boston area for at least a week–it’s dark, dank, and raw out there. It seems a lot more like November than late May. On top of all that my Spring allergies are the worst I’ve ever experienced. So please forgive me if this post makes no sense. On to the news of the day.

Disgraced IMF honcho Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s accuser testified before a New York grand jury today. Immediately following her testimony, Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys announced their determination to spring their client from his cell at Rikers Island Jail.

His lawyers initially proposed a $1 million bail package that was rejected by the court.

Today a new offer that was said to add a private monitoring firm, an electronic bracelet and a guard to the package was put together. The cash component of the bail package remained at $1 million dollars, but the deal now included a guarantee that Strauss-Kahn would remain confined in New York City and not leave his residence except for visits to his doctor or lawyers. His passports and travel documents have already been taken from him.

According to ABC News, police are testing body fluids found in Strauss-Kahn’s hotel room for DNA.

ABC News has confirmed that police cut a swath of carpet to test for DNA and swabbed one of the suite’s sinks under a black light that indicated there was potential DNA evidence there.

Apparently Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys plan to claim that their client’s sexual encounter with a hotel maid was “consensual,” but there is a serious problem with that theory in addition to the maid’s testimony.

Investigators also say information downloaded from the suite door’s electronic card reader indicates the maid entered the room and never closed the door. The hotel policy requires maids to leave the door open when cleaning. The open door, they say, is proof that the women entered the room to work, not to engage in consensual sex.

I won’t dwell on this sordid story much longer, but I did want to call your attention to this piece in Time Magazine, which details a number of previous accusations against Strauss-Kahn–along with rumors –gossip about his abusive behavior toward women–that were hushed up until now. How predictable these guys are!

Joseph Cannon’s latest post is a must-read, along with the New Yorker article by Jane Mayer on which the Cannon comments. It’s about the domestic spying by the NSA that went on under Bush and the Obama administration’s heavy handed prosecution of whistleblowers while at the same time protecting the Bush administration criminals. (Minkoff Minx also mentioned Mayer’s article in her morning post yesterday.) Here’s an introduction to the piece by Cannon:

This humble blog spent a lot of time talking about NSA overreach during the controversies over Russell Tice and FISA. Meyer’s piece confirms a long-held suspicion that the real problem wasn’t eavesdropping on telephone calls but automated data-mining of all forms of electronic communication.

Two competing computer systems were designed to take us into this brave new world: ThinThread and Trailblazer. (The system in place now is called Turbulence. Someone at NSA has a strange affection for the letter T — which is also the first letter in totalitarian.) Trailblazer turned out to be a costly boondoggle. ThinThread worked. Originally, it had provisions built in to protect the privacy of American citizens; NSA Director Haybed tossed out those barriers.

Meyer focuses on an NSA whistleblower named Thomas Drake, who tried to blow the whistle on the Trailblazer fiasco — and on the abuses of privacy — to a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee. Unfortunately, the Committee was headed, at the time, by Porter Goss — and by Nancy Pelosi. They both seemed deaf to what Drake had to say.

Why is Obama so obsessed with prosecuting whistleblowers–even to the point of dusting off the Espionage Act? Jane Mayer writes:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

Mayer asked Drake about it:

Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

Check out her article if you can. She’s one of the best investigative reporters we have.

You may have missed Dakinikat’s late night post on Tuesday–the one about exploding watermelons. I thought this story deserved a little more emphasis, because it shows what can happen when there are no government regulations on agriculture–and industry in general (and that is what the Republicans would love to make happen). From Raw Story:

A bizarre wave of exploding watermelons — possibly due to farmers’ abuse of a growth-boosting chemical — has once again spotlighted safety fears plaguing China’s poorly regulated food sector.

State media has said nearly 50 hectares (120 acres) of watermelon crops in the eastern city of Danyang have been ruined by the phenomenon this month after some growers doused them with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron.

“On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (exploded watermelons), but by the afternoon it was 100,” farmer Liu Mingsuo told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) in a report that aired Tuesday. He said he had sprayed them with the chemical just a day before.

Remind me to never buy any food produce in China!!

Have you heard that the Obama campaign is selling T-shirts and coffee cups that mock the “birthers?”

President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign today started selling “Made in the USA” t-shirts featuring images of both President Obama and the long-form birth certificate he released copies of last month.

Wear your support for this campaign with an official Made in the USA T-shirt,” his website advertises. Donate $25 or more today and we’ll send you your limited-edition shirt.

Coffee-mugs are also available.

“Remember ‘fight the smears’ from the 2008 campaign?” asked campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “This is the mobile version of it.”

Quite frankly, I think this is a little bit tacky….but that’s just me. And speaking of tasteless behavior, the Catholic Church is attempting to blame the ’60s counterculture for the behavior pedophile priests. From the Guardian UK:

The investigation commissioned by Catholic bishops said that the peak incidence of sexual abuse by priests in the 1960s and 70s reflected the increased level of other deviant behaviours in American society in the period, including “drug use and crime, as well as social changes, such as an increase in premarital sex and divorce.”

Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said most of the abusive priests were ordained in the 1940s and 50s and were not properly trained to confront the social upheavals of the 1960s.

David O’Brien, a historian of American Catholicism at the University of Dayton, said the report, Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, was dangerous because it seemed to exonerate bishops.

The study also ignores the long history of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy. Methinks these “researchers” told the Catholic Bishops what they wanted to hear rather than do any serious research.

Finally, President Obama plans to give another “most amazing speech evah” tomorrow. This one is on the Middle East and North Africa. According to Voice of America:

The speech will be broad in scope, as Mr. Obama focuses on the peaceful democratic movements for change that have swept the region, discusses implications for U.S. policy, and offers what administration officials call some concrete policy proposals.

He will give his assessment of the impact of popular uprisings that have led to political changes in Egypt and Tunisia, and which continue in places like Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama will speak of a moment of opportunity, after a decade of great tensions and divisions, in which people of the region and U.S. policy can begin to turn the page toward a more positive and hopeful future.

The stalemated Israel-Palestinian peace process will be an important element. However, Mr. Obama is expected to frame it as part of a wider picture and say that leaders on both sides of that conflict should seize an opportunity for peace.

Whatever….I think I’ll arrange to be busy while he’s speechifying. Anyway, what are you reading and blogging about today?

Total Information Awareness* is Here

Yesterday Joseph Cannon put up a disturbing post about the American company that made it possible for Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian government to shut down the internet in Egypt, making it much more difficult for Egyptians to communicate over social media like Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to read Cannon’s post and watch the Democracy Now video that he included.

The company is Narus, located in Sunnyvale, CA. The company was purchased by Boeing last summer.

I was intrigued enough to do a little more reading about Narus, and thought I’d add a bit to what Cannon had to say.

According to Wikipedia, Narus (emphasis added)

is notable for being the creator of NarusInsight, a supercomputer system which is allegedly used by the NSA and other bodies to perform mass surveillance and monitoring of citizens’ and corporations’ Internet communications in real-time, and whose installation in AT&T’s San Francisco Internet backbone gave rise to a 2006 class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T, Hepting v. AT&T.

That’s the NSA spying program that supposedly targeted only foreign communications, but actually spied on all of us.

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, I found this report by Brian Reid, who is described as a “telecommunications expert.” He is also a former electrical engineer professor at Stanford and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University West. Reid was asked by the EFF to examine the technology used by AT&T in the spying program. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD

This infrastructure is capable of monitoring all traffic passing through the AT&T facility (some of it not even from AT&T customers), whether voice or data or fax, international or domestic. The most likely use of this infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA. NSA involvement undermines arguments that the facility is intended for use by AT&T in protecting its own network operations.

This infrastructure is not limited to, nor would it be especially efficient for, targeted surveillance, or even untargeted surveillance aimed at communications where one of the ends is located outside the United States. It is also not reasonably aimed at supporting AT&T operations and security procedures.

Reid explains that the equipment he examined “is far more powerful and expensive than that needed to do targeted surveillance or surveillance aimed only at international or one-end foreign communications.” Furthermore:

The documents describe a secret, private backbone network separate from the public network where normal AT&T customer traffic is carried transmitted. A separate backbone network would not be required for transmission of the smaller amounts of data captured via targeted surveillance. You don’t need that magnitude of transport capacity if you are doing targeted surveillance.

The bottom line is that the equipment used to provide data to the NSA for Bush’s spying program was designed to spy on ordinary American citizens–not foreign terrorists.

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