Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really sick of bad news. I’ve completely stopped watching TV and listening to radio news, because I just can’t take any more details of wars, plane crashes, dead children. If it weren’t for writing these morning posts, I wouldn’t have a clue what’s happening. I get all my news from Google, Twitter, and various blogs, including Sky Dancing. So I’m going to quickly link to the major stories topping Google this morning, and then I’ll post some interesting longer reads that I came across around the ‘net.
There’s a 12-hour cease fire in Gaza right now. BBC News has extensive coverage, Gaza conflict: 12-hour truce as deaths top 900.
Residents in Gaza are using a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble.
At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce, a Palestinian health official says.
That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.
International talks on a longer truce have resumed in Paris.
Israel said it would continue to “locate and neutralise” Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT).
So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli’s military says.
Lots of details and photos at the BBC link.
From AP via The Boston Globe, Gaza Sides Agree to Lull But Truce Efforts Stall.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation ‘‘significantly.’’
Hours after the U.S.-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin Saturday. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.
In a ‘‘Day of Rage,’’ Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.
The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.
An op-ed from Al Jazeera, Israel’s war of disproportionate force on Gaza, by Britain Eaken.
The recent killing of four Palestinian children by an Israeli airstrike while they played soccer on a beach in Gaza should call into question Israel’s claim that it’s waging a war of self-defense. Western journalists who saw the attack witnessed firsthand an ugly reality of life in Gaza — Palestinian civilians are too often caught in the crossfire in this tiny, densely populated and besieged coastal strip.
Early Sunday, an Israeli incursion into the Shujayea neighborhood in Gaza killed at least 60 more Palestinians. Most of the injuries being treated at Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital belong to civilians suffering from shrapnel injuries and amputations. More than 100 children have been killed so far and the Palestinian death toll just surpassed 400 with more than 3000 injured.
The UN says more than 70 percent of Palestinian casualties are civilians, a marked increase from previous Israeli assaults.
The toll on civilians has raised United Nations’ concerns of the Israeli use of disproportionate force in Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law. But the use of disproportionate force and the targeting of civilian infrastructure isn’t a new or surprising tactic for Israel. In fact, it’s a primary strategy according to Gabi Siboni, head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel. This strategy has a well-documented history in Gaza.
I have no words.
Yes, there’s still fighting in Libya, and the violence is getting so bad than the U.S. has closed and evacuated its embassy there. NPR reports: U.S. Embassy Compound In Libya Shut Down Amid Fighting.
The U.S. has closed its embassy in Libya and evacuated diplomats amid what is being described as a significant deterioration in security, with rival militant factions battling in the capital, Tripoli.
“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf said. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”
In a separate statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said: “[All] embassy personnel were relocated, including Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy during the movement.”
AP via ABC News: US Evacuates Embassy in Libya Amid Clashes.
The United States shut down its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said….
The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately. “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,” it said. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” ….
“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves. In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region,” Harf said. The evacuated staffers will continue to work on Libya issues in Tunis, elsewhere in North Africa and Washington.
Ukraine is still roiling, but it seems to have receded into the background for the moment. Here are a few headlines just to keep you current.
From the WaPo editorial board: If the West doesn’t do more for Ukraine now, it might soon be too late.
From the Are You Kidding Me? File
From the LA Times: White House aide says Republicans might impeach Obama over immigration.
Pesident Obama will propose broad-ranging executive action on immigration reform later this summer that could provoke Republicans into trying to impeach him, a senior White House official said Friday.
While details of the immigration plan are still being worked on, it will mark “an important step in the arc of the presidency” that will shape both the substance and politics of immigration policy for years, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
That move is certain to “increase the angry reaction from Republicans” who already accuse Obama of exceeding his executive authority, Pfeiffer said, highlighting recent statements by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in which she backed an impeachment move.
“I would not discount the possibility” that Republicans would seek to impeach Obama, he said, adding that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has “opened the door to impeachment” by his plans to sue Obama for allegedly exceeding his executive authority.
Is this just an effort by the White House to put the impeachment question out there so Americans can let the GOP what they think about it? The Hill reports: White House taking impeachment seriously.
Senior White House advisers are taking very seriously the possibility that Republicans in Congress will try to impeach President Obama, especially if he takes executive action to slow deportations.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, said Friday that the White House is taking the prospect of impeachment in the GOP-controlled House more seriously than many others in Washington, who see it as unlikely.
Pfeiffer noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a large following among Tea Party conservatives, has called for Obama’s impeachment and a large block of the GOP’s base favors it.
“I saw a poll today that had a huge portion of the Republican Party base saying they supported impeaching the president. A lot of people in this town laugh that off. I would not discount that possibility,” he told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Pfeiffer said Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to file a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions increased the chance of impeachment proceedings in the future.
A little reality testing from Sean Sullivan at the WaPo: These two numbers show why impeachment talk is trouble for the GOP.
By about 2-1, Americans say they don’t think President Obama should be impeached and removed from office, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll released Friday.
But a majority of Republicans disagree.
That, in a nutshell, is why talk about impeaching the president is nothing but trouble for the GOP heading toward the November midterms.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say Obama should not be impeached, compared to just 33 percent who say he should. Very one-sided. It’s clear that impeachment is a political loser when it comes to the public as a whole.
The “public as a whole” numbers matter because with most of the consequential primaries behind us, Republican candidates in key Senate races — the battle for the Senate is the main midterm event — have to be concerned about playing to broad statewide audiences.
Some (mostly) longer reads
These aren’t all that cheery either, but they are interesting.
This one from the NYT Sunday Magazine is for Dakinikat: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
Why do people leave their kids in hot cars? How can you forget you’ve got your kid with you? I just don’t get it, and it makes me furious! There’s a long article about these cases at NBC News, Fatal Mistake: What Everyone Should Know About Hot Car Deaths, by Alex Johnson.
This NYT op-ed isn’t a long read, but it’s a useful one: Why the Border Crisis Is a Myth, by Veronica Escobar.
Remember all that talk about how there was going to be some kind of horrible disaster in 2012? Well it turns out that something awful almost happened. From NASA Science News, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012. If you don’t want to wade through the whole article, The Boston Globe has a shorter summary, Apparently Earth ‘Just Missed’ a Solar Superstorm in 2012.
Finally, something entertaining and not depressing, This Is What Happens When You Ask Contemporary Artists To Reimagine Maps Of The World. Check it out!
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.
Whatever happened to the American dream? Did it ever exist in reality?
We baby boomers can look back to the post-WWII years, when the economy was humming along and the GI Bill made it easier for our dads to get college degrees, find good jobs, buy houses for their families.
In those days, one salary was enough to support a couple and several kids. My dad did it on a college professor’s salary. It was a struggle early on, but those government programs for veterans gave us a push into the professional class.
Eisenhower was President then–a Republican who wouldn’t even recognize his fellow Republican today. Later on, after John Kennedy was murdered and Lyndon Johnson was brought down by the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon presided over the end of the good times. After about 1973, it was over; and since then, wages have essentially remained stagnant.
That was when we entered a new America, in which it took two salaries to support a family. Women went to work, not just because they wanted to, but to keep their families afloat. Children went to day care. So many thing changed. What happened to the American dream? Were those post-war years just an outlier, a brief period of prosperity that meant nothing in the greater scheme of things?
Yesterday, I read a piece by Joseph Stiglitz–in Politico of all places–that addressed some of these questions: The Myth of America’s Golden Age: What growing up in Gary, Indiana taught me about inequality. Stiglitz was born in 1943. Growing up in the industrial “company town” of Gary, he was able to observe the underside of the “golden age” of capitalism–“discrimination, poverty, and bouts of high unemployment.” The big steel companies deliberate brought in desperately poor African Americans from the south in order to keep wages low–to divide and control the work force. Stiglitz writes that he never bought into the notion of the free market as the answer to all ills.
Nearly half a century later, the problem of inequality has reached crisis proportions. John F. Kennedy, in the spirit of optimism that prevailed at the time I was a college student, once declared that a rising tide lifts all boats. It turns out today that almost all of us now are in the same boat—the one that holds the bottom 99 percent. It is a far different boat, one marked by more poverty at the bottom and a hollowing out of the middle class, than the one occupied by the top 1 percent.
Most disturbing is the realization that the American dream–the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity–is a myth. The life chance of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”
Stiglitz points to Thomas Picketty’s research as evidence. Picketty’s work shows that capitalism leads inevitably to inequality. The post-war era of my childhood and early adulthood was an “aberration.”
Today, inequality is growing dramatically again, and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics—the idea that the government can just step back and if the rich get richer and use their talents and resources to create jobs, everyone will benefit. It just doesn’t work; the historical data now prove that. [....]
Ironically enough, the final proof debunking this very Republican idea of trickle-down economics has come from a Democratic administration. President Barack Obama’s banks-first approach to saving the nation from another Great Depression held that by giving money to the banks (rather than to homeowners who had been preyed upon by the banks), the economy would be saved. The administration poured billions into the banks that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, without setting conditions in return. When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank engage in a rescue, they virtually always impose requirements to ensure the money is used in the way intended. But here, the government merely expressed the hope that the banks would keep credit, the lifeblood of the economy, flowing. And so the banks shrank lending, and paid their executives megabonuses, even though they had almost destroyed their businesses. Even then, we knew that much of the banks’ profits had been earned not by increasing the efficiency of the economy but by exploitation—through predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices and monopolistic pricing. The full extent of their misdeeds—for instance, the illegal manipulation of key interest rates and foreign exchange, affecting derivatives and mortgages in the amount of hundreds of trillions of dollars—was only just beginning to be fathomed.
I can’t quote any more, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite enough that you’ll go read the whole thing. While you’re at that link, you might also take a look at this article by “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer, The Pitchforks are Coming for Us Plutocrats. Here’s just a small taste–it’s a long read.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.
What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.
It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators.
Is it possible that because these articles appear in conservative Politico, even a few powerful people in Washington might read them and stop for a moment to think about what what is really happening to America?
Also in the news today:
This is a six-month report card time, and it’s failing grades for all of Washington. President Obama’s approval rating stands at 41% in our recent NBC/WSJ poll, his fav/unfav is upside down (at 41%-45%), and a majority of Americans (54%) no longer think he’s able to lead the country and get the job done. Republicans and Congress are in even worse shape. The GOP’s fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ poll is 29%-45% (versus the Democratic Party’s 38%-40% score). Just 7% of the country has confidence in Congress (compared with 29% for the presidency and 30% for the Supreme Court, per Gallup. And when it comes to congressional productivity, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) has passed just 121 bills into law — fewer than at this same point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress (140 bills into law). Maybe it doesn’t FEEL worse, because there hasn’t been an epic showdown or confrontation like the government shutdown. But the numbers tell a different story — it has gotten worse.
From James Risen at the NYT, scary revelations about the murder of 17 civilians by Blackwater thugs in Iraq in 2007: Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.
“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”
I have a few more links, but I’m going to put them in comments; because I’m having terrible issues with WordPress today. I hope you’ll also post your thoughts and links in the thread below.
A fascinating new study found that Asian elephants comfort each other in times of stress by touching each other with their trunks and making consoling vocalizations. From National Geographic:
Asian elephants, like great apes, dogs, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and us, have now been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ.
Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director ofEmory University’s Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: The animals, in this case captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), offer something akin to humans’ sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends.
The scientists observed a group of 26 elephants in Thailand for a year. It was a naturalistic study–researchers waited until a stressful situation occurred and then noted the animals’ behavior toward each other. From The Christian Science Monitor:
A stress-inducing situation might be a dog walking by or a snake rustling the grass, or the roar or just the presence of a bull elephant. Sometimes the stressor was unknown. Regardless, scientists know elephant distress when they see it: erect tails and flared ears; vocalizations such as trumpeting, rumbling, or roaring; and sudden defecation and urination tell the story….the scientists witnessed bystander elephants—those not directly affected by a stressor—moving to and giving upset elephants physical caresses, mostly inside the mouth (which is kind of like a hug to elephants) and on the genitals.
Bystanders also rumbled and chirped with vocal offerings that suggested reassurance. Sometimes the empathetic animals formed a protective circle around the distressed one.
There was also evidence of “emotional contagion,” when herd mates matched the behavior and emotional state of the upset individual. In other words, seeing a “friend” in distress was distressing to the observers. Those animals also consoled one another.
Here’s another interesting study at Scientific American–this time about humans: A Happy Life May not be a Meaningful Life. The results reminded me of all the super rich guys who are constantly complaining about how victimized they are by the rest of us peons.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” For most people, feeling happy and finding life meaningful are both important and related goals. But do happiness and meaning always go together? It seems unlikely, given that many of the things that we regularly choose to do – from running marathons to raising children – are unlikely to increase our day-to-day happiness. Recent research suggests that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.
Roy Baumeister and his colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology that helps explain some of the key differences between a happy life and a meaningful one. They asked almost 400 American adults to fill out three surveys over a period of weeks. The surveys asked people to answer a series of questions their happiness levels, the degree to which they saw their lives as meaningful, and their general lifestyle and circumstances.
As one might expect, people’s happiness levels were positively correlated with whether they saw their lives as meaningful. However, the two measures were not identical – suggesting that what makes us happy may not always bring more meaning, and vice versa. To probe for differences between the two, the researchers examined the survey items that asked detailed questions about people’s feelings and moods, their relationships with others, and their day-to-day activities. Feeling happy was strongly correlated with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events. Happiness was also correlated with being in good health and generally feeling well most of the time. However, none of these things were correlated with a greater sense of meaning. Feeling good most of the time might help us feel happier, but it doesn’t necessarily bring a sense of purpose to our lives.
Interestingly, the researchers found that money can buy happiness, but it can’t guarantee a meaningful life. This is something I’ve come to believe through long and painful experience. I think a sense of meaning comes from working your way through problems and difficult times and coming out the other side stronger and wiser. Rich people are often able to shield themselves from life problems, but at the same time they miss out on opportunities for emotional growth.
Of course relationships are also important for both happiness and a sense of meaning.
In Baumeister’s study, feeling more connected to others improved both happiness and meaning. However, the role we adopt in our relationships makes an important difference. Participants in the study who were more likely to agree with the statement, “I am a giver,” reported less happiness than people who were more likely to agree with, “I am a taker.” However, the “givers” reported higher levels of meaning in their lives compared to the “takers.” In addition, spending more time with friends was related to greater happiness but not more meaning. In contrast, spending more time with people one loves was correlated with greater meaning but not with more happiness. The researchers suspect that spending time with loved ones is often more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying, than spending time with friends.
This is something else I can testify to. I spent about 18 years being a primary caregiver for my ex-mother-in-law. At times this was a thankless, frustrating task that certainly didn’t make me happy all the time–but in the end, I realized that the experience had been meaningful and I had grown a great deal from it.
It looks like Hillary is going to be in the news a great deal between now and the 2016 presidential primaries. We’ve seen the Republicans ramping up their campaign against her–so far by focusing on old gossip from the 1990s. Even the Vince Foster conspiracy theories are coming back to haunt us. Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter reported yesterday that Fox News was set to resurface not only Vince Foster myths, but also Kathleen Willey’s claims that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her.
One of the top shelf conspiracy theories about the Clintons had to do with the suicide of White House advisor Vince Foster, which topped a list of other suspected deaths at the hands of Bill and Hillary. Now, 13 years after the end of that administration and at the outset of the would-be presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, everything from the ’90s appears to be back on the table.
We’ve already heard from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who was the first to invoke Monica Lewinsky. And now here comes Fox News Channel resurrecting the Vince Foster conspiracy theory.
On tonight’s The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly welcomes Kathleen Willey who famously accused President Clinton of sexual harassment. An independent counsel discredited the groping allegations. Nevertheless, Willey has gone on to accuse the Clintons of not only assassinating Vince Foster, but also of murdering her husband.
Sigh . . . I don’t know if anyone here watched that travesty–I wonder if Megyn explained why Hillary should be held responsible for things her husband did (or was accused of doing) decades ago.
As an antidote to that nonsense, here are a couple of very interesting polls:
Politico: Hillary Clinton sweeps GOP in Ohio
Hillary Clinton buries Gov. Chris Christie and other potential Republican presidential candidates in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new poll on Thursday.
The former secretary of state, who led Christie 42 percent to 41 percent in November, now tops the New Jersey governor 49 percent to 36 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
Read the rest of the numbers at the link.
Now here’s a poll that will make Dakinikat smile: In a Stunning Turn Poll Shows Hillary Clinton Could Make Louisiana Blue in 2016 (Politicus USA)
A new Public Policy Polling survey of Louisana found that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill was on the ballot in the 1990s.
According to PPP, “All the Republican contenders for President lead Hillary Clinton in hypothetical contests, but the margins are closer than they’ve been in the state since her husband was on the ticket. Christie leads her by just a point at 44/43, Jindal’s up 2 at 47/45, Paul leads by 4 points at 47/43, Huckabee has a 5 point advantage at 49/44, and the strongest Republican with a 7 point edge at 50/43 is Jeb Bush.”
Hillary Clinton’s numbers represent the best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill Clinton won Louisiana by 5 points in 1992 and 12 points in 1996. George W. Bush won the state by 8 points in 2000, and 15 points in 2004. McCain beat Obama by 19 in 2008, and Mitt Romney defeated the president by a margin of 18 points in 2012.
Wow! It’s still very early, but that is exciting news.
You may recall that last August, Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport in London and questioned about documents he was carrying–top secret documents that had been stolen by Edward Snowden from the U.S. and Great Britain. Miranda’s computers, flash drives and other electronic devices were also confiscated. Greenwald and Miranda sued, claiming that Great Britain charging him under their “anti-terrorism laws was unlawful and breached human rights.” Yesterday the court released its decision, saying that judges said it was a “proportionate measure in the circumstances” and in the interests of national security. From BBC News:
Steven Kovats QC, representing the UK home secretary, previously told the High Court that the secret material seized from Mr Miranda could have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda.
But Mr Miranda’s lawyers argued the detention at Heathrow was illegal because it was carried out under the wrong law: Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
They said that in reality he was detained on the say-so of the security services so they could seize journalistic material.
Mr Miranda was carrying 58,000 highly classified Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) files, the judge said.
He added that Oliver Robbins, the UK’s deputy national security adviser at the Cabinet Office, had stated that “release or compromise of such data would be likely to cause very great damage to security interests and possible loss of life”.
But could Miranda be called a “journalist” just because he was carrying material that his partner had written about in a newspaper, The Guardian?
In his ruling, Lord Justice Laws said: “The claimant was not a journalist; the stolen GCHQ intelligence material he was carrying was not ‘journalistic material’, or if it was, only in the weakest sense.
“But he was acting in support of Mr Greenwald’s activities as a journalist. I accept that the Schedule 7 stop constituted an indirect interference with press freedom, though no such interference was asserted by the claimant at the time.
“In my judgement, however, it is shown by compelling evidence to have been justified.”
Here’s the full decision of the court. There is a subtle but emphatic slap-down of Glenn Greenwald’s arguments in points 54-56. The judged noted that Greenwald appeared to be lecturing the court when he discussed “responsible journalism,” and responded that the “evidence” Greenwald offered was “unhelpful,” because he took the position that British law enforcement officers deliberately acted in a way that they (officers) knew to be wrong; he ignored the fact that the material Miranda was carrying was stolen and could end up in the wrong hands; and that
Mr Greenwald’s account (paragraph 33) of the “many ingredients to the sensible reporting of very sensitive information” is insubstantial; or rather, mysterious – the reader is left in the dark as to how it is that “highly experienced journalists and
legal experts” (paragraph 33(1)) or “[e]xperienced editors and reporters” (33(2)) are able to know what may and what may not be published without endangering life or security.
Miranda and Greenwald hope to be granted the right to appeal the decision.
I’m just about out of space, so I’ll conclude with a quickie from Sochi: Olympian Films Wolf Stalking Her Hotel Hallway.
Olympian Kate Hansen tweeted out a video of what appears to be a wolf trotting down her hotel hallway with the message, “I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi.” via
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!
There are good signs for President Obama in the latest national polls, and among the poll aggregators. Two of the most recent national polls show Obama at 50% and leading by 3 percentage points.
At HuffPo, Mark Blumenthal has the latest aggregated results from Pollster showing a likely Obama win. Here are the latest national polls.
And the latest Ohio polls.
You’ll find lots more info and charts at the HuffPo link.
Nate Silver put up a late post at 1:42 this morning: Late Poll Gains for Obama Leave Romney With Longer Odds
Mitt Romney has always had difficulty drawing a winning Electoral College hand. Even during his best period of polling, in the week or two after the first presidential debate in Denver, he never quite pulled ahead in the polling averages in Ohio and other states that would allow him to secure 270 electoral votes.
But the most recent set of polls suggest another problem for Mr. Romney, whose momentum in the polls stalled out in mid-October. Instead, it is President Obama who is making gains.
Among 12 national polls published on Monday, Mr. Obama led by an average of 1.6 percentage points. Perhaps more important is the trend in the surveys. On average, Mr. Obama gained 1.5 percentage points from the prior edition of the same polls, improving his standing in nine of the surveys while losing ground in just one.
Right now, Silver estimates Obama’s chances of winning at 91.6% and projects he’ll win 315 electoral votes. Romney’s chances of winning are only 8.4% and he is projected to win 223 electoral votes.
Finally, here’s Sam Wang’s latest post: Presidential prediction 2012 (Election Eve) He is also predicting an Obama win.
Have you voted yet? Were the polls crowded? If you’re in a swing state, or in touch with people in swing states, what are you hearing?
I’ve spent all my professional life drenched in numbers and statistics so Nate Silver’s numbers fascinate me. It’s probably the same reason they drive Republicans and pundits to distraction. Unraveling trend is easier with numbers than hateful, wishful thinking motivated by political piety. So, Karl Rove got on TV–probably trying to save what’s left of his credibility–saying that Romentum was stopped by Sandy. Romentum was a bit of canard and it turns out so is Sandy. Silver tries to discern the possible factors behind the recent numbers and looks at the Sandy Factor. That’s a relatively simple task for any one with a database and a background in trend analysis.
When the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, Mr. Obama’s chances of winning re-election were 73 percent in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Since then, his chances have risen to 86 percent, close to his highs on the year.
But, while the storm and the response to it may account for some of Mr. Obama’s gains, it assuredly does not reflect the whole of the story.
Mr. Obama had already been rebounding in the polls, slowly but steadily, from his lows in early October — in contrast to a common narrative in the news media that contended, without much evidence, that Mr. Romney still had the momentum in the race.
Moreover, there are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama’s gains before and after the storm hit.
- Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.
- The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.
- The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.
- Democrats have an edge in early voting based on states that provide hard data about which party’s voters have turned out to cast ballots. Some voters who were originally rejected by the likely voter models that surveys apply may now be included if they say that they have already voted.
- Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been running lots of advertisements, which could have some effect, especially in the swing states.
- Mr. Obama’s voter-targeting operation may in fact be stronger than Mr. Romney’s and may have begun to show up in the polls.
- Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, a threshold that would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election for an incumbent.
- Some elections “break” toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in and begin to evaluate their decision.
Each of these hypotheses could merit its own article. But the point is that the causes for Mr. Obama’s gain in the polls are overdetermined, meaning that there are lot of variables that might have contributed to the one result.
If I had told you in January that Mr. Obama’s approval rating would have risen close to 50 percent by November, and that the unemployment rate would have dropped below 8 percent, you likely would have inferred that Mr. Obama was a favorite for re-election, with or without a hurricane and what was judged to be a strong response to it.
Whatever the causal factors, Nate’s numbers look good for the President. Sam Wang–a Princeton number kruncher–says it not only looks like the President will hold his office but that the US Senate might see a Democratic Pick up of two. This is an important firewall for those of us that care about things like Supreme Court appointments and getting rid of the filibuster silliness that has allowed the Republicans to basically thwart governing. Dems may pick up Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
Rather than responding to the analysis, the Republicans continue to attack Nate Silver the man. You may recall this Krugman piece last week about The War on Objectivity.
Brad DeLong points me to this National Review attack on Nate Silver, which I think of as illustrating an important aspect of what’s really happening in America.
For those new to this, Nate is a sports statistician turned political statistician, who has been maintaining a model that takes lots and lots of polling data — most of it at the state level, which is where the presidency gets decided — and converts it into election odds. Like others doing similar exercises — Drew Linzer, Sam Wang, and Pollster — Nate’s model continued to show an Obama edge even after Denver, and has shown that edge widening over the past couple of weeks.
This could be wrong, obviously. And we’ll find out on Election Day. But the methodology has been very clear, and all the election modelers have been faithful to their models, letting the numbers fall where they may.
Yet the right — and we’re not talking about the fringe here, we’re talking about mainstream commentators and publications — has been screaming “bias”! They know, just know, that Nate must be cooking the books. How do they know this? Well, his results look good for Obama, so it must be a cheat. Never mind the fact that Nate tells us all exactly how he does it, and that he hasn’t changed the formula at all.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.
This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.
Any kind of scholarship has become challenging under Republican fanaticism as witnessed by the attacks on evolution, climate change, and the economic analysis that shows there is no such thing as an economic benefit created by low marginal tax rates for the rich. Just ask scientists trying to get grants to study things like stem cell research. Fox gets people to believe anything. Science causes them to retreat to their medieval churches and scream about intervention by celestial beings. (So, if gawd caused Sandy to take out NJ and NY because of Gay Rights, does this mean gawd caused Sandy to give Obama momentum? Ask Grand Inquisitor Pat Robertson about that one.)
Yes, Nate’s numbers took another upward tick this morning. He also believes that Obama will take the popular vote which should be dismaying to all those journalists that keep wanting to turn this into a white knuckle election.
Silver also added to Obama’s likely number of electoral votes on Monday. He now sees the president winning 307.2 to 230.8 for Mitt Romney, a tiny tick higher than he saw the race on Sunday.
He also sees Obama capturing the popular vote, taking 50.6 percent to Romney’s 48.5.
Rachel Maddow insists the Republicans see the numbers and actually believe that their man Mittster is a goner. The blame game has already begun. Haley Barbor blames Sandy. Lindsey Graham is actually looking at numbers and notices that that demographics are not in their favor.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95% of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”
– Politico quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), saying that demographics would be the only reason for a hypothetical Mitt Romney loss Tuesday.
Yeah, the blame game has begun and the election isn’t even over. Funny he should bring up Hispanic and black voters. Latino Decisions found that Hispanics support President Obama in historic numbers — 73 percent. They believe that’s enough to carry President Obama to victory in four swing states and ultimately to win re-election. Those four swing states are Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.
This is closer to the truth. Republican policy statements as expressed by “severely conservative” Mitt have driven off the young, hispanics, blacks, and women. I had MSNBC on mute most of the weekend when they were following the candidates around. All you have to do is look at the people used as back drops for candidates’ speeches to realize who really is on the losing side of US demographics. This is part of the numbers game. You can’t build momentum or fantasize a trend based on capturing an ever decreasing slice of the American Pie.
Which brings me to the post election deconstruction that should occur in the Republican party. When will the actually give up on the Southern Strategy? We’ve seen more race baiting in this election that I’ve frequently wondered if the ghost of George Wallace is running the Romney campaign. We’ve seen attacks on women’s rights that make me wonder if Republicans know that women got the right to vote. We’ve seen support of policies that are based on show us your papers that remind me of old NAZI movies. You can’t attack and demonize the majority of the electorate and expect the numbers to come in for you. You also can’t build policy on attacking scientific models and theories. The Republican party has definitely shown that its plan for America is to try to recreate the past no matter what the cost.
All I can say is go Nate go! Win one for Ada Lovelace and the country. There are easy ways to figure out which events contribute to trend and what’s just random. People should pay more attention to Nate Silver and a lot less attention to the likes of Karl Rove and Haley Barbour. Nate Silver bet Joe Scarborough $2000 that his analysis was right saying “Occam’s Razor: Pundits are useless”. That’s something I completely grok.
“I think I get a lot of grief because I frustrate narratives that are told by pundits and journalists that don’t have a lot of grounding in objective reality,”
I’m sure glad MSNBC is running real programming tonight, because I can’t think of much other than the upcoming election. The polls have been moving toward Obama over the past few days, and suddenly he’s ahead in the Pew Poll which has been showing Romney ahead for some time.
Nate Silver reacted on Twitter, saying that the results match his findings:
Nate Silver @fivethirtyeight
Simple average of national polls released Thursday: Obama +0.9. Friday: Obama +1.2. Saturday: Obama +1.3. Today (so far): Obama +1.4
In the Pew Research Center’s election weekend survey, Obama holds a 48% to 45% lead over Romney among likely voters.
The survey finds that Obama maintains his modest lead when the probable decisions of undecided voters are taken into account. Our final estimate of the national popular vote is Obama 50% and Romney 47%, when the undecided vote is allocated between the two candidates based on several indicators and opinions.
The interviews all took place after superstorm Sandy struck.
Obama’s handling of the storm’s aftermath may have contributed to his improved showing. Fully 69% of all likely voters approve of the way Obama is handling the storm’s impact. Even a plurality of Romney supporters (46%) approve of Obama’s handling of the situation; more important, so too do 63% of swing voters.
Pew expects voter turnout to be lower than in either 2004 or 2008, which could help Romney, but other data favors Obama.
Nearly four-in-ten (39%) likely voters support Obama strongly, while 9% back him only moderately. A third of likely voters support Romney strongly, compared with 11% who back him moderately. In past elections, dating to 1960, the candidate with the higher percentage of strong support has usually gone on to win the popular vote.
Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters than Romney supporters are voting for him rather than against his opponent (80% for Obama vs. 60% for Romney), another historical indicator of likely victory. And far more registered voters expect an Obama victory than a Romney victory on Nov. 6 (52% vs. 30%).
Obama’s increases in likely voter support are most notable among women, older voters, and political moderates. Women now favor Obama by a 13-point margin (53% to 40%), up from six points a week ago and reflecting a shift toward Obama since early October. Right after the first presidential debate, the women’s vote was split evenly (47% each). Men, by comparison, favor Romney by a 50% to 42% margin, with little change in the past month.
At the Guardian UK, Ewen McAskill writes:
The findings are similar to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published at the weekend. The two offer the first firm evidence of the impact of Sandy on the election. Pew carries one caution for Obama, suggesting turnout may be lower than in 2008 and 2004, which could help Romney.
Obama’s team claimed that Romney’s frantic campaign schedule reflected a sense of desperation, squeezing in a late visit to previously neglected Pennsylvania Sunday in the search for elusive electoral college votes elsewhere. The Obama team also cited visits Monday to Florida and Virginia, two states it said the Romney camp had claimed to have locked up.
In an interview with ABC, David Plouffe, who organised Obama’s re-election bid, expressed confidence the president will win on Tuesday, and seized on a comment by Karl Rove that Obama had benefited from superstorm Sandy. Democrats are interpreting this as Rove, George W Bush’s former campaign strategist and co-founder of the Crossroads Super Pac that has poured millions of dollars into Romney’s campaign and those of other Republicans, beginning to get his excuses in early.
“A few days ago he [Rove] predicted a big Romney win. My sense is Karl is going be at a crossroads himself on Tuesday when he tries to explain to the people who wrote him hundreds of millions of dollars why they fell up short,” Plouffe said.
Another Obama strategist, David Axelrod, commenting on Romney’s Pennsylvania trip, told Fox News: “They understand that they’re in deep trouble. They’ve tried to expand the map because they know in states like Ohio. They’re behind and they’re not catching up at this point.” He added: “They understand that the traditional, or the battleground, states that we’ve been focusing are not working out for them.”
On Microtargeting . . .
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been reading some interesting articles on the GOTV efforts of the two campaigns. I was struck by this piece at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about a woman in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, Priscilla Trulen, who received a spooky call on Halloween.
“It was Mitt Romney saying, ‘I know you have an absentee ballot and I know you haven’t sent it in yet,’ ” Trulen said in an interview. “That just sent me over the line. Not only is it like Big Brother. It is Big Brother. It’s down to where they know I have a ballot and I haven’t sent it in! I thought when I requested the ballot that the only other entity that would know was the Mukwonago clerk.”
Other voters are being “creeped out” by calls from Democratic groups.
In Brown County, residents are unnerved about “voter report cards” from Moveon.org that show the recipients how their voting participation compares to those of their neighbors.
The solicitations give only a small glimpse into how much digital information the campaigns are able to access about voters.
Corporations working for candidates request publicly available voter data as well as information about absentee ballots from state governments, which they can combine with other data to target individual voters.
The cost of the entire state database is $12,500. Four requesters have been willing to pay that since Sept. 1, Magney said: Catalist (a progressive voter database organization), the Democratic National Committee, and data analysis firm Aristotle – all based in Washington, D.C. The last requester was Colorado-based Magellan Strategies, a firm that specializes in “micro-targeting” for Republican parties and candidates….
In an interview with PBS that aired in October, Aristotle’s chief executive officer, John Phillips, said the company keeps up to 500 data points on each voter – from the type of clothes they buy, the music they listen to, magazines they read and car they own, to whether they are a NASCAR fan, a smoker or a pet owner, or have a gold credit card. Some of that information comes from commercial marketing firms, product registration cards or surveys. Other information is obtained through Facebook, door-to-door canvassing, petitions and computer cookies – small data codes that register which websites the user has visited.
Through data modeling, analyzers can categorize voters based on how they feel about specific issues, values or candidates. They then try to predict voting behavior and figure out which issue ads voters are most likely to be susceptible to – for instance ads on education, gun control or immigration.
One of the companies that requested the full Wisconsin voter database, Magellan Strategies, explains on its website that it conducts surveys on people’s opinions and merges that with their political, consumer and census demographics.
Whoever targeted Trulen made one important mistake, however. She tends to vote Democratic although she lives in a Republican district.
According to Sasha Issenberg, author of the book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, writes that in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic microtargeting operation is far superior to the Republican one.
In fact, when it comes to the use of voter data and analytics, the two sides appear to be as unmatched as they have ever been on a specific electioneering tactic in the modern campaign era. No party ever has ever had such a durable structural advantage over the other on polling, making television ads, or fundraising, for example. And the reason may be that the most important developments in how to analyze voter behavior has not emerged from within the political profession.
“The left has significantly broadened its perspective on political behavior,” says Adam Schaeffer, who earned graduate degrees in both evolutionary psychology and political behavior before launching a Republican opinion-research firm, Evolving Strategies. “I’m jealous of them.”
In other words, the Republican dislike of science and academia may be holding Romney back in the microtargeting area.
Schaeffer attributes the imbalance to the mutual discomfort between academia and conservative political professionals, which has limited Republicans’ ability to modernize campaign methods. The biggest technical and conceptual developments these days are coming from the social sciences, whose more practically-minded scholars regularly collaborate with candidates and interest groups on the left. As a result, the electioneering right is suffering from what amounts to a lost generation; they have simply failed to keep up with advances in voter targeting and communications since Bush’s re-election. The left, meanwhile, has arrived at crucial insights that have upended the conventional wisdom about how you convert citizens to your cause. Right now, only one team is on the field with the tools to most effectively find potential supporters and win their votes.
Go read the whole thing if you’re interested. It’s quite a long article, but fascinating. After reading some of his pieces yesterday, I was also able to heard Issenberg on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” this morning. So many books to read, so little time.
Now what are you all hearing/reading? Are you as excited as I am?
The latest republican trick is one again to attack the polls, lie about the polls, and make up shit. Here’s some great pollsplaining from one of the great nerds of statistics and polls Sam Wang.
First, thing up … there is no Ro-mentum and Obama’s lead is static.
In either case, the overall picture is the same: a narrow Obama lead that is static – or perhaps widening. There is no evidence for Ro-mentum.
I’ve been pulling my hair out over the total lack of understanding by a lot of media punditry over white noise or random variation. I think it’s ignorance and not deliberate. Any series of numbers reported over time will go up or down randomly because that’s just the behavior of a variable reported over time. That’s when you have to apply the idea of what’s the top and bottom border of are representing random. This is measured by Standard Deviation and it’s what underlies the idea of being within the margin of error. You have to see fairly clear and sustained patterns in order to call it not random. That’s why you can’t hang on every up and down. Basically, it takes 7 ups or 7 downs to bust out of the three standard deviation realm of what’s normal. Take a look at the graph over there. It goes up and it goes down. The deal to figure out is what is ‘statistically’ significant. You can’t hang on every blip of every poll.
Poll correctness has a lot to do with the way the sample is treated. That’s the basis of the guess of how many republicans you should sample or democrats in the overall sample. You have to estimate–base on historical patterns or something else–what the patterns of voter turn out will be. That’s what most of the complaints about polls tend to reflect. These assumptions lead to weighting the samples differently. That’s why a lot of folks do meta-analysis or look at a poll of polls. This has to do with the law of large numbers which tells us that averages of averages tend to reflect reality. But, the core reality is that pollsters make money by producing accurate pictures and not by telling people what the want to hear. One legitimate concern is if you should look at all voters or likely voters. A lot of the rest of the so-called sampling biases that pundits scream about tend to be based more on wishful thinking than anything. There are some differences in terms of how statistics are used. Both Gallup an Rasmussen are median-based polls and this can make a difference when comparing to a poll that’s not based on the same metrics.
Wang points to the echo chamber and the Romney minions that are focusing on single polls and screaming or clapping.
Paul Krugman is calling out National Review Online for their attempted takedown of Nate Silver for biased methods and somehow cooking the books. Krugman writes:
This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.
Now more commentators on the right, including Jay Cost (The Weekly Standard) and Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post), are getting in on the act. Wow, dogpile on the rabbit!
A popular approach to undermining technical knowledge is to throw mud, assert expertise, make picky points, and sow doubts among the less savvy. In this case, what’s the argument? The NRO writer, Josh Jordan, makes this core criticism:
When you weight a poll based on what you think of the pollster and the results and not based on what is actually inside the poll (party sampling, changes in favorability, job approval, etc), it can make for forecasts that mirror what you hope will happen rather than what’s most likely to happen.
Jordan sounds like many partisan polling enthusiasts – on both sides. However, his style of poll-dissection can very easily lead a person astray. The human mind has a large capacity for finding reasons to reject a piece of disagreeable evidence. I’ve written about this in the context of how people form false beliefs in politics (“Your Brain Lies To You,” NYT, June 27, 2008). Polling internals lend themselves very well to such “motivated reasoning.” It is always possible to find something not to like in a poll. This is why I discourage all of you from chewing over single polls.
Part of the reason that conservatives are hating on Nate Silver is that they aren’t getting the results they want. It’s the idea that if you scream loud enough, you can get things to change. Check out Silver’s latest. Romney’s chance at getting the electoral college is less than 30% which is basically where it’s been for a very long time . A few up blips do not change a long term trend unless they occur over a period of time.
Any way, calm down and let the metrics be with you. Here’s some interesting snapshots of trends on a state by state basis.