Thursday Reads: Republicans and the Shutdown, Refugee Boat Disaster, The Dark Web, and SnowdenPosted: October 3, 2013
The government shutdown continues, and as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, no one seems to know how long this deadlock between extremist House Republicans (along with their chief hostage Speaker John Boehner) and the rest of Congress–Republicans and Democrats–will continue. It’s depressing as hell, and it’s really difficult to figure out what Republicans think they’re going to gain by it.
Just a few links:
On day three of the partial government shutdown, a new CBS News poll reveals that a large majority of Americans disapprove of the shutdown and more are blaming Republicans than President Obama and the Democrats for it.
Fully 72 percent of Americans disapprove of shutting down the federal government over differences on the Affordable Care Act; just 25 percent approve of this action. Republicans are divided: 48 percent approve, while 49 percent disapprove. Most tea party supporters approve of the government shutdown – 57 percent of them do. Disapproval of the shutdown is high among Democrats and independents. This CBS News poll was conducted after the partial government shutdown began on October 1.
Views of the Affordable Care Act are related to views of the shutdown. Those who like the health care law also overwhelmingly disapprove of shutting down the government. There is more support for the shutdown among Americans who don’t like the 2010 health care law. Thirty-eight percent of them approve of the shutdown but even more, 59 percent, disapprove.
Republicans in Congress receive more of the blame for the shutdown: 44 percent of Americans blame them, while 35 percent put more blame on President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. These views are virtually the same as they were last week before the shutdown, when Americans were asked who they would blame if a shutdown occurred.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business.
T.J. Gentle, chief executive officer of Smart Furniture, an online custom furniture maker in Chattanooga, employs 250 people, has seen sales grow 25 percent this year, and was planning another round of hiring—until Republican hard-liners forced the federal government to close on Oct. 1. Gentle is the embodiment of moderate, business-minded pragmatism: He voted for President Obama and Tennessee’s Republican Senator Bob Corker, splits his donations between the parties, and prefers divided government as a check on partisan excess. Like his plan to hire more workers, this too may change as a result of the shutdown. “It’s as if House Republicans are playing suicide bomber with the U.S. economy,” he says. “As a businessman, it defies all reason and logic.”
Smart Furniture and countless other businesses are already feeling the impact of the shutdown. The Federal Housing Administration, which backed one-third of all mortgages last year, has furloughed employees, a move that will slow loan approvals and house purchases. “That directly affects the construction and materials industries,” Gentle says, “but it also affects us, since the purchase of a new home is the No. 1 trigger for buying furniture.”
Larger businesses, which often tilt more heavily toward the GOP, are no less frustrated. It’s hard to find any organization more closely affiliated with the Republican Party than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2012 the business trade group spent $35,657,029 on federal elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $305,044 was spent on behalf of Democratic candidates. Last year the Chamber went further to help Republicans than it ever had by running ads directly against candidates: It spent $27,912,717 against Democrats and only $346,298 against Republicans.
Geeze, if business isn’t happy with the GOP, who do they have left in their corner? The religious right and the Tea Party, I guess–and those groups likely have a lot of crossover. Is that enough for to support a national party?
A small but growing group of House Republicans is increasingly worried about the fallout from the government shutdown and say it’s time for Speaker John Boehner to allow a simple vote on a spending bill.
Defunding Obamacare can wait for now, they say.
“I’m trying to be optimistic but at the same time I have a really, really tough time when people are out of work and they can’t pay their bills,” Rep. Michael Grimm of New York told reporters Wednesday. “Though it might be a political loss for us … this is an untenable situation.”
Rep. Scott Rigell, whose Virginia district is home to a significant number of military members and civilian contractors, was one of the first to publicly break away.
“We fought the good fight,” he said in a tweet on Tuesday, but acknowledged it was time to move on.
Boehner hosted small groups of concerned members on Wednesday. A spokesman for Boehner declined to talk about the sessions.
How can Boehner get away with letting just 30% of his caucus run roughshod over the entire House? Think Progress may have the answer: How John Boehner Engineered An Ohio Gerrymander To Save His Speakership.
During the last redistricting cycle, then-Ohio state Senate President Tom Niehaus (R) pledged to deliver a redrawn map of Ohio’s congressional districts “that Speaker Boehner fully supports.” Indeed, at the height of the map drawing process, Boehner’s political aide Tom Whatman averaged a request a day to Ohio’s mapmakers — often micromanaging the slightest geographic changes in the district lines. In one case, for example, the line-drawers added a peninsula with no residents at all to Rep. Jim Renacci’s (R-OH) district because the peninsula included the headquarters of a company whose leaders donated generously to Renacci.
A full election cycle later, Team Boehner’s micromanagement paid off. President Obama won the state of Ohio by nearly two points in 2012, but 12 members of Ohio’s 16 member Congressional delegation are Republicans. In the nation as a whole, nearly 1.4 million more Americans voted for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.
The districts Boehner helped draw in Ohio played into a much larger Republican Party strategy to secure the House by rigging the legislative maps. Indeed, last January, the Republican State Leadership Committee released a report entitled “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013.” The report bragged that gerrymandering “paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.”
And, as TP notes, this strategy was replicated and a number of other states.
Congress blew by a midnight deadline to pass a crucial spending bill, triggering the beginning of a partial government shutdown – the first in 17 years.
The failure means the gears of the federal government will start to slow down on Tuesday, though hundreds of thousands of federal workers will remain on the job. Though it’s been a long time since the last one, this marks the 18th shutdown since 1977.
Lawmakers missed the deadline after being unable to resolve their stand-off over ObamaCare, despite a volley of 11th-hour counterproposals from the House. Each time, Senate Democrats refused to consider any changes to ObamaCare as part of the budget bill.
House Republicans, for their part, refused to back off their demand that the budget bill include some measures to rein in the health care law – a large part of which, the so-called insurance “exchanges,” goes into effect on Tuesday.
As House Republicans endorsed one more counterproposal in the early morning hours, lawmakers spent the final minutes before midnight trying to assign blame to the other side of the aisle. Republicans are no doubt wary of the blowback their party felt during the Clinton-era shutdown, while Democrats were almost eager to pile the blame on the GOP.
“This is an unnecessary blow to America,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said.
House Speaker John Boehner claimed that Republicans are the ones trying to keep the government open but “the Senate has continued to reject our offers.”
Ahead of the deadline, the White House budget office ordered agency heads to execute an “orderly shutdown” of their operations due to lack of funds. Americans will begin to feel the effects of a shutdown by Tuesday morning, as national parks close, federal home loan officers scale back their caseload, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers face furlough.
The question now is how long the stand-off will last. Congress is fast-approaching another deadline, in mid-October, to raise the debt limit or face a U.S. government default. Lawmakers presumably want to resolve the status of the government swiftly in order to shift to that debate.
Throughout the day Monday, lawmakers engaged in a day-long bout of legislative hot potato.
The House repeatedly passed different versions of a bill that would fund the government while paring down the federal health care overhaul. Each time, the Senate said no and sent it back.
As a last-ditch effort, House Republicans early Tuesday morning endorsed taking their disagreement to what’s known as a conference committee – a bicameral committee where lawmakers from both chambers would meet to resolve the differences between the warring pieces of legislation.
The latest House bill, which the Senate shot down late Monday, would delay the law’s individual mandate while prohibiting lawmakers, their staff and top administration officials from getting government subsidies for their health care.
The House voted again to endorse that approach early Tuesday and send the bill to conference committee.
“It means we’re the reasonable, responsible actors trying to keep the process alive as the clock ticks past midnight, despite Washington Democrats refusal – thus far – to negotiate,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Reid, though, said the Senate would not agree to the approach unless and until the House approves a “clean” budget bill.
The rhetoric got more heated as the deadline neared.
“They’ve lost their minds,” Reid said of Republicans, in rejecting the latest proposal.
“Senate Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they’d rather shut down the federal government than accept even the most reasonable changes to ObamaCare,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell countered.
Amid the drama, President Obama said he was holding out hope that Congress would come together “in the 11th hour.”
Such a deal did not come to pass.
A prior Republican effort to include a provision defunding ObamaCare in the budget bill failed. House Republicans then voted, early Sunday, to add amendments delaying the health care law by one year and repealing an unpopular medical device tax.
The Senate, in a 54-46 vote, rejected those proposals on Monday afternoon.
At this stage, congressional leaders are hard at work trying to assign blame.
Democrats have already labeled this a “Republican government shutdown.” But Republicans on Sunday hammered Reid and his colleagues for not coming back to work immediately after the House passed a bill Sunday morning.
In other news . . .
This story is just breaking . . . From CNN: Scores dead after boat sinks of Italian island of Lampedusa.
At least 94 people, including a pregnant woman and two children, died when a boat capsized and caught fire off the island of Lampedusa, the Italian coast guard told CNN on Thursday.
The coast guard has been able to save at least 151 people, and the rescue operation is ongoing.
The boat is thought to have been carrying up to 500 people. Those aboard include Somalis, Eritreans and Ghanaians, the coast guard said, and the boat is thought to have launched from Libya’s coast.
Lampedusa, the closest Italian island to Africa, has become a destination for tens of thousands of refugees seeking to enter European Union countries.
The head of the U.N. refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, praised the efforts of the Italian coast guard but said he was “dismayed at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea.”
Some context on this story, also from CNN, a June 2011 story about one of Lampedusa’s boat people.
Yesterday the FBI shut down a website called Silk Road that has been used for massive amounts of criminal activity. From Fox News: Feds shut down $1.2 billion criminal internet marketplace.
Federal authorities have shut down what they called the “most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today,” an underground operation responsible for distributing illegal drugs and other black market goods and services.
The site’s alleged owner, Ross William Ulbricht, was arrested and $3.6 million in anonymous digital currency known as Bitcoins was seized. The site, which did about $1.2 billion in sales, was taken over by federal authorities, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York. Learn more about digital currency here at Crypto Code Review
Ulbricht was alleged to operate a website responsible for distributing hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services, including fake IDs and computer hacking-related services. He was indicted on charges of drug conspiracy, computer intrusion offensives conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.
Ulbricht, 29, used the aliases “Dread Pirate Roberts,” “DPR,” and “Silk Road” while operating the site, authorities said.
From BBC News, Silk Road: How FBI closed in on suspect Ross Ulbricht.
It was an underground website where people from all over the world were able to buy drugs.
In the months leading up to Mr Ulbricht’s arrest, investigators undertook a painstaking process of piecing together the suspect’s digital footprint, going back years into his history of communicating with others online….
The search started with work from Agent-1, the codename given to the expert cited in the court documents, who undertook an “extensive search of the internet” that sifted through pages dating back to January 2011.
The trail began with a post made on a web forum where users discussed the use of magic mushrooms.
In a post titled “Anonymous market online?”, a user nicknamed Altoid started publicising the site.
“I came across this website called Silk Road,” Altoid wrote. “Let me know what you think.”
According to Onblastblog.com, the post contained a link to a site hosted by the popular blogging platform WordPress. This provided another link to the Silk Road’s location on the so-called “dark web”.
Read the whole story at the link.
From Andy Greenberg at Forbes: Feds Allege Silk Road’s Boss Paid For Murders Of Both A Witness And A Blackmailer.
When I interviewed the Dread Pirate Roberts, the persona behind the anonymous black market drug website known as Silk Road, he described his narcotics bazaar as a victimless libertarian experiment. But criminal complaints against Ross William Ulbricht, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who allegedly wore that pirate’s mask, now claim that he was also willing to leave a few bodies in his wake.
In two separate sets of charges released Wednesday following the seizure of the Silk Road’s domain and servers, federal prosecutors accused Ulbricht of not only conspiracies to sell drugs and launder money, but also of paying hitmen for the murder of two individuals, one who is described as attempting to blackmail Ulbricht after hacking a Silk Road vendor and learning the identities of thousands of the site’s users, and another employee of the Silk Road who Ulbricht allegedly feared might reveal him to law enforcement.
“DPR’s communications reveal that he has taken it upon himself to police threats to the site from scammers and extortionists,” reads an affidavit from FBI agent Christopher Tarbell, “and has demonstrated a willingness to use violence in doing so.”
In the one of the two cases, filed in a Maryland district court, a criminal complaint against Ulbrichtdescribes how an undercover agent gained Ulbricht’s trust after communicating with him through the Dread Pirate Roberts account Ulbricht is thought to have used and conducting a $27,000 cocaine deal through the Silk Road. The agent later allegedly received a message from the Dread Pirate Roberts asking if he’d be willing to arrange the beating of a Silk Road employee who Roberts said had scammed users of the site and taken their bitcoins, the cryptographic currency used on Silk Road.
Read much more at the link.
Just a side note on the Silk Road story: the “dark web” makes use of the encryption methods recommended by Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. This is the “other side” of the fight for “privacy rights.”
Here are a couple more Snowden/Greenwald news stories I came across.
Earlier this summer, a few weeks after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaked documents on the agency’s surveillance practices were published, the encrypted email service provider he used, called Lavabit, shut itself down. At that time, Lavabit’s founder Ladar Levison said he was shuttering his website to avoid “becom[ing] complicit in crimes against the American people,” which many took to mean he was resisting further surveillance demands by the US government. It turns out we didn’t know the half of it: new court documents unsealed today in the US District Court for Virginia’s Eastern District, obtained by Wired, reveal that Levison fought the US government tooth-and-nail to avoid handing over the encryption keys that would allow government agents to read his customers’ emails.
In the harrowing saga recounted in the newly unsealed documents, it turns out the government obtained a search warrant in July and demanded Lavabit hand over the encryption and secure-socket layer (SSL) keys to its system. The government was pursuing the emails sent by a single target, whose name has been redacted, but as Wired points out, it’s highly likely that user was Snowden himself.
From the Baltimore Sun: Hopkins professor rejects invitation to review NSA documents leaked by Snowden
A Johns Hopkins University cryptography professor — who gained media attention when university officials told him to take down a blog post he wrote about National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden — says he declined an invitation this week to join journalists and others reviewing the classified NSA documents.
“The truth is, I don’t really know what to say,” said Matthew D. Green, who received the invitation from Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald via Twitter on Thursday.
“It was a very generous offer,” Green said. “I think somebody should be down there and they need more expertise to go through those documents, [but] I’m not sure I want it to be me.”
Greenwald, who received the documents from Snowden and has led global reporting on them, invited Green to his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to “work journalistically” on the documents, specifically as they pertain to the NSA’s alleged circumvention of online encryption tools.
The invitation gave a boost to Green’s rising prominence in the debate over NSA spying methods. Johns Hopkins administrators this month briefly asked him to remove from universityservers a blog post he had written about coverage of the Snowden documents.
This post has gotten way too long, so I’ll put the rest of my links in the discussion thread below. Now what stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comments.