Wednesday Morning Reads: Egypt, Lego and 1.6 Trillion Suns

cllas

Morning Y’all!

After spending last night watching Lost in America...it made me think about Skippy, the manager at the Der Wienerschnitzel and those frozen fries, you know, the importance of details that make you great at your job.  (If you forgot the scene I am talking about, the manager of the hot dog joint tells Albert Brooks just how wonderful his wife, Julie Hagerty, is…because of her attention to details, she noticed he had served “frozen” fries…with bits of ice inside of them.)

I wonder if Bank of America’s Bryan Moynihan, had such an attention to detail, but according to this article by Matt Taibbi, it looks like attention to detail is obviously not essential to a CEO…snark.  Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan Apparently Can’t Remember Anything | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Thank God for Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan. If you’re a court junkie, or have the misfortune (as some of us poor reporters do) of being forced professionally to spend a lot of time reading legal documents, the just-released Moynihan deposition in MBIA v. Bank of America, Countrywide, and a Buttload of Other Shameless Mortgage Fraudsters will go down as one of the great Nixonian-stonewalling efforts ever, and one of the more entertaining reads of the year.

In this long-awaited interrogation – Bank of America has been fighting to keep Moynihan from being deposed in this case for some time – Moynihan does a full Star Trek special, boldly going where no deponent has ever gone before, breaking out the “I don’t recall” line more often and perhaps more ridiculously than was previously thought possible. Moynihan seems to remember his own name, and perhaps his current job title, but beyond that, he’ll have to get back to you.

Yes, the key to holding a top executive position is being able to recite the phrase, “I don’t recall,” over and over again. I am not a fan of Matt Taibbi, but this article did make me laugh.
Anyway, over in Egypt, President Morsi leaves palace as police battle protesters.

Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Mursi’s palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidency sources said.

Officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators angered by Mursi’s drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on December 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.

The crowds had gathered nearby in what organizers had dubbed “last warning” protests against Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a November 22 decree that expanded his powers. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the demonstrators chanted.

“The president left the palace,” a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed.

Since this is a “fluid” situation, I will update this story down below in the comments.
Like a house of cards, things in the Mideast are precariously unstable…let’s move on to a topic that has some strength behind it. I am talking about those little plastic pieces that always seem underfoot, Legos:  How tall can a Lego tower get?
A 32.5m tall tower made of Lego in Prague
Building Lego towers is a competitive business – this one in Prague, at 32.5m, may be the tallest to date

It’s not just children who like to build towers with Lego – the internet is alive with discussion on how many Lego bricks, stacked one on top of the other, it would take to destroy the bottom brick. So what’s the answer?

There has been a burning debate on the social news website Reddit.

It’s a trivial question you might think, but one the Open University’s engineering department has – at the request of the BBC’s More or Less programme – fired up its labs to try to answer.

“It’s an exciting thing to do because it’s an entirely new question and new questions are always interesting,” says Dr Ian Johnston, an applied mathematician and lecturer in engineering.

The article goes into some detail on how the test were conducted, so if you are interested…check it out. I will go ahead and spoil it for y’all…just how tall is this mighty tower of legos?

The average maximum force the bricks can stand is 4,240N. That’s equivalent to a mass of 432kg (950lbs). If you divide that by the mass of a single brick, which is 1.152g, then you get the grand total of bricks a single piece of Lego could support: 375,000.

So, 375,000 bricks towering 3.5km (2.17 miles) high is what it would take to break a Lego brick.

A graphic showing the height of the Lego tower, the height of Mount Olympus, the height at which Felix Baumgartner pulled his parachute, and the Eiffel Tower
That is one big ass tower of plastic.
And while we are on the subject of height or distance, it looks like Voyager is in the news again. Voyager discovers ‘magnetic highway’ at edge of solar system

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has encountered a “magnetic highway” at the edge of the solar system, a surprising discovery 35 years after its launch, the experts behind the pioneering craft said Monday.

Earlier this year a surge in a key indicator fueled hopes that the craft was nearing the so-called heliopause, which marks the boundary between our solar system and outer space.

But instead of slipping away from the bubble of charged particles the Sun blows around itself, Voyager encountered something completely unexpected.

This is amazing…think about how far Voyager has gone.

The craft’s daily radio reports sent back evidence that the Sun’s magnetic field lines was connected to interstellar magnetic fields. Lower-energy charged particles were zooming out and higher-energy particles from outside were streaming in.

They called it a magnetic highway because charged particles outside this region bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the bubble, or heliosphere.

“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the Sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” said Edward Stone, a Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Imagine, traveling 11 miles a second!  Voyager Discovers New Region of Solar System

We got ourselves all excited for NASA’s Mars press conference today, even though we already knew it wasn’t about life on the red planet, but what we should have been paying attention to was happening nearly 11.5 billion miles away in the heliosphere. The Voyager 1 spacecraft has encountered a new region of our solar system. What’s even more exciting is that NASA scientists believe this region is the final barrier between Voyager and interstellar space. That’s so much more impressive than chlorine on Mars.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft is now so far out into space that light from the Sun takes over 34 hours to reach it. NASA debated whether this new region should still be considered part of our solar system, but project scientist Edward Stone makes the call by saying, “Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway.”

The scientists believe that Voyager will pass out of the solar system within the next two months or so. I’ve got one more space link for you this morning, it is about our Galaxy the Milky Way,  New estimate suggests Milky Way mass of 1.6 trillion suns

Panorama of Milky Way from the inside: a mosaic of multiple shots on large-format film, comprising all 360 degrees of the galaxy from our vantage point. More about this image here. Image Credit: Digital Sky LLC via Wikimedia Commons

Our home galaxy the Milky Way is thought to be approximately 100,000 light-years wide and about 1,000 light-years thick. You often hear the estimate that the mass of our galaxy is equal to several billion suns, but some estimates have ranged up to twice that high, or even higher. Now some astronomers are suggesting a mass for the Milky Way of 1.6 trillion suns. The estimate isn’t just for stars but also includes the mass of our Milky Way’s invisible dark halo. It’s based on the first-ever measurement of the proper motion, or sideways motion along our line of sight, of a small galaxy satellite galaxy to our Milky Way. Ken Croswell reported on the role of this small galaxy – called Leo I – yesterday (December 3, 2012) in Scientific American.

There is a lot of information in that article, be sure to go and read the whole thing.

The rest of today’s post will be in link dump fashion…

An Amazing New Use for Ecstasy- Helping women deal with PTSD after rape.

Big Pharma Company Mocked Patients Who Got “Jawbone Death” from Drug: “Ma Toot Hurts So Bad” – Merck couldn’t care less about the patients…as long as they could make more money.

Noam Chomsky: What the American Media Won’t Tell You About Israel –Decades of hell in Gaza.

New research shows corrosion may accelerate failures at Fukushima Daiichi- Great…and guess what? There is nothing that can be done about it.

Be sure you read these couple of links on the NFL murder suicide this past weekend:

Jovan Belcher: Murder is Domestic Violence [by @QuadCityPat] | Angry Black Lady Chronicles

If you only read one thing about the Kasandra Perkins murder- Feministe

Regarding privacy in America…Laptop seizures by US government highlight 9/11-era climate of fear | Glenn Greenwald

And lastly, a bit of history…. Disability history month: Was Tamerlane disabled?

Tamerlane – derived from his nickname Timur the Lame – rose from obscurity to become a 14th Century conqueror of nations, who piled high the skulls of his enemies. It was quite a feat at a time when physical prowess was prized, writes Justin Marozzi.

Think of the greatest conquerors of all time and chances are you’ll quickly list Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. It is rather less likely, unless you come from Central Asia or the Muslim world more widely, that you’d spare a thought for Tamerlane.

Yet in many ways this Tartar warlord, born near Samarkand in 1336 in what is now Uzbekistan, outshone both the Macedonian king and the Mongol warlord.

Lots of links, I know…but it is a busy time of the year, and if you can’t take it all in one shot…come back during the day when you have the time. And be sure to share the things you are reading about today…


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

Republicans are asking Obama to try to ‘break the log jam” in the subcommittee.  I’m not surprised given the President’s known ability to give everything away at the bargaining table. I’m also sure it’s because they can get their lousy policies through and then when they backfire and people get mad, they’ll blame Obama.

Republicans are calling for President Obama to jump into the deficit-reduction talks gripping Washington, reflecting the widespread view that the congressional supercommittee is now headed for a failure.

Lawmakers and congressional aides familiar with the deliberations say the talks have reached a hard impasse, with Republicans locked in an internal struggle over whether to agree to higher tax hikes to cut a deal.
“It’s hard to see us getting a deal unless he comes in at the last minute,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said of Obama, who is on a nine-day trip to the Pacific and not scheduled to return to Washington until Sunday.

“We’re in the two-minute drill and closing in on a ‘Hail Mary’ and the quarterback is on the sidelines.

“Unless the leadership, including the president, steps in and saves this thing, I think the consensus is, in terms of coming up with a credible package, all is lost,” Coats added.

There was a surprising lack of urgency on Capitol Hill Thursday as members of the supercommittee talked past one another. Some lawmakers not on the super-panel shrugged at the inaction, saying they were planning to go home for the Thanksgiving recess and noting they don’t have to vote on any deal until next month. Meanwhile, House and Senate leaders indicated they are in no rush to jump in and broker an agreement.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. at Truth Dig says the easiest way to cut the deficit is to do nothing.   His thinking reflects some of the things that I’ve been supporting.  It includes letting the Bush Ta Cuts expire.  I hate to see the triggers on some things, but getting the Pentagon budget trimmed down would be a positive as far as I’m concerned.

Democrats have put huge spending cuts on the table—and keep offering more and more and more. All the Democrats ask in return is that the cuts be balanced by some revenue.

By rejecting their offers, Republicans induce Democrats who are anxious for some deal—any deal—to keep coming their way. The Republican approach is wrong and irresponsible but brilliant as a negotiating strategy. As my Washington Post colleague Ezra Klein wrote this week: “Over the past year, Republicans have learned something important about negotiating budget deals with Democrats: If you don’t like their offer, just wait a couple of months.”

Finally, the Republicans decided they needed to look slightly flexible. So they came up with $300 billion in supposed revenue from a promised tax reform in a plan that also included a proposal to slash tax rates for the rich. There is a lot more tax cutting here than revenue. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chairman of the super committee, who said on Tuesday that this was the GOP’s final offer, reversed field Wednesday afternoon and declared himself open to other ideas.

Even Democrats inclined to capitulate know how shameful agreeing to such a deal would be. And mainstream, centrist deficit hawks should be grateful if a deal on such terms is killed. What Republicans want to do in effect is to make at least 90 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent. This would only make deficit reduction even harder in the future.

That’s where the do-nothing strategy comes in. Championed early this year in The New Republic by New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait, it looks even better now because of the spending cuts scheduled to go through if the super committee doesn’t act.

Jack Ambramoff is sure biting the hands that used to feed him.  He’s written an article for Bloomberg and calls congress criterz “Willing Vassals” that are up for anything as long as they can cash in.  Now that he can no longer make a profit from the game,  he’s got some suggestions to end it.

There is only one cure for this disease: a lifetime ban on members and staff lobbying Congress or associating in any way with for-profit lobbying efforts. That seems draconian, no doubt. The current law provides a cooling off period for members and staff when joining K Street. The problem is that the cooling off period is a joke.

Here’s how it works. “Senator Smith” leaves Capitol Hill and joins the “Samson Lobbying Firm.” He can’t lobby the Senate for two years. But, he can make contact with his former colleagues. He can call them and introduce them to his new lobbying partners, stressing that although he cannot lobby, they can. His former colleagues get the joke, but the joke’s on us.

Because the vast majority of lobbyists start on the Hill, this employment advantage is widely exploited. It cannot be slowed with a cooling off period. These folks are human beings, not machines — and human beings are susceptible to corruption and bribery. I should know: I was knee-deep in both. Eliminating the revolving door between Congress and K Street is not the only reform we need to eliminate corruption in our political system. But unless we sever the link between serving the public and cashing in, no other reform will matter.

That’s easier said then done considering the foxes write the rules about how they can behave in the coop.  One thing they have managed to do is arrange to avoid taxes.  Check out the nifty chart from Felix Salmon at Reuters.  It graphs corporate taxes as a percentage of corporate profits.  Can you say magically disappear?

Once upon a time, the corporate income tax generated a significant share of tax revenues; now, it’s bumping along in the 2%-of-GDP range. Yes, the marginal rate of corporate income tax is high, at 35%. But US companies are extremely good at not paying that.

But at least we know the aggregate amount that corporations pay in taxes. What we don’t know — because they won’t say, and no one’s forcing them to say — is how much any given public company pays.

Follow the article to this link to CNN Money that shows you why reporting requirements allow corporations to hide their true tax positions.

During the past few months I’ve repeatedly asked three big companies in the tax-wars cross hairs — GE (GE), Verizon (VZ), and Exxon Mobil (XOM) — to voluntarily disclose information that would refute allegations that they incurred no U.S. federal income tax for 2010. All have refused, saying they won’t disclose anything not legally required. They still manage to complain about the allegations, however. I suspect that if I called the rest of the Fortune 500, I’d get 497 similar responses.

As a society, we need the “taxes incurred” information to inform our current tax debate. Investors, too, would benefit; knowing the tax that companies actually incur would be a useful analytical tool.

The solution, as I’ve said before, is for the Financial Accounting Standards Board to require companies to disclose information from their tax returns for the most recent available year and the nine years before that. This information, from lines 31 and 32 of their returns, would take at most one person-hour a year per company to provide. Adding a 17th tax metric to the 16 already available hardly seems like an invasion of corporate privacy.

Here’s an interesting read in the New York Review of Books by Jeff  Madrick entitled “America’s New Robber Barons”.

So it’s worth knowing who is in that group of very rich with runaway incomes. Several news reports in recent weeks have cited a seminal 2010 study that uses IRS tax returns to find out who belongs to the top 0.1 percent. The authors deserve mention because they are often left out when their results are cited: Jon Bakija of Williams College, Adam Cole of the US Treasury, and Bradley Heim of Indiana University. This was not a Treasury study, however, but a private if scholarly one.

One key finding of the study is that three out of five of those in the top 0.1 percent of tax filers are executives or managers of financial and non-financial companies. Overall, more are from non-financial companies. Does this partly exonerate Wall Street, suggesting it is really Main Street where the problem lies?

In fact Bakija, Cole and Heim’s analysis shows the opposite: it turns out that much of the increase in wealth of non-financial executives was also tied to the rise in stock prices. Keeping in mind that stocks options appear as wages in the data, it seems Wall Street itself was often a main source of income growth for “non-financial” managers as well. (Lawyers were another large category of tax payers in the top 0.1 percent, and though there is not direct data for this, one can fairly assume that many of those in corporate firms made a lot of money from the booming business on Wall Street.)

Next, think about how these executives managed their businesses. If they wanted a big pay check they had to orient their strategies to push up their stock prices—that is, often to appeal to the financial fads and fashions of the day. These strategies typically have included cutting labor costs and R&D in order to boost short-term profits. This delighted their advisers on the Street. Stock investors soon loved nothing better than consistent increases in quarterly profits, and not coincidentally, stock options accounted for an ever-growing proportion of executive pay over the past thirty years. We used to say once that Wall Street worked for business, but over the past thirty years business has come to work for Wall Street.

It is just as interesting to explore the factors that the authors found out probably did not cause the surge at the top. Economists typically posit sophisticated technologies (often related to digitalization) as a source of growing inequality: because these technologies require better educated and smarter workers, those who have mastered them are rewarded handsomely. But there was no surge at the very top in other nations like Japan or in Western Europe, which also adopted the same technologies.

Similarly, some have argued that globalization led to higher incomes at the top because skilled workers can sell themselves globally at ever higher salaries. Again, however, such skilled workers have not seen a surge at the very top in Europe or Japan.

One reason for the discrepancy between the US and other countries is that boards of directors in the US are especially willing to give their CEOs and other high level executives big raises and generous stock options. Lucian Bebchuk of Harvard has done a lot of research on this so-called “governance” issue. Meantime, as Bebchuk’s work shows, shareholder influence over executive compensation is far too weak. And there is also the issue of culture itself. America—with its admiration for the self-made man—tolerates high remuneration for the men and women at the top and lower wages in the middle and the bottom. Culture likely matters.

So, that’s a few things to get you started this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Reads: Why Should We Trust the FBI?

It has been more than ten years since September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, our elected selected leaders have chosen to trash the U.S. Constitution, attack several other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and more), build secret military bases and prisons around the world, and spy on and even assassinate American citizens.

For a concise summary of many of the Constitutional abuses that have taken place since that awful day ten years ago, I highly recommend reading this essay by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here’s a sample:

In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush shredded the U.S. Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, none of us has any desire to play down the horrors of that day, but two wrongs do not make a right, and, in response to the attacks, the Bush administration engineered and presided over the most sustained period of constitutional decay in our history.

Moreover, although George W. Bush entered the first decade of the 21st century by dismantling the rights that are fundamental to the identity of the United States and the security of its people, Barack Obama ended the decade by failing to fully reinstate those rights. Through his own indecision, or through ferocious opposition in Congress, he has been unable to close the infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay, as promised, and has also refused to even contemplate holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for their crimes.

As a result, the democratic principles which we hold dear have suffered a massive blow in the first ten years of the 21st century, although that is not the main problem. The deep erosion of our civil liberties is to be lamented, and should be resisted, however difficult the political climate, but the most painful truth about the last decade is that it marks an undoing of democracy so severe that without concerted and deliberate action by the people in this country — and, one hopes, by their elected leaders — the values which defined us, before the events of 9/11 allowed the Bush administration to reshape our perception of executive power, may never be regained.

The Bush and Obama administrations and Congress by supporting and passing the Patriot Act and other clearly unconstitutional laws, have also given free rein to the FBI to spy on and persecute American citizens–usually peace activists or Muslim-Americans.

Today I want to focus on the FBI’s “investigations” of “homegrown terrorism.” I use those quotes because I don’t consider sting operations in which the FBI seeks out vuknerable Muslim-Americans and suggests methods by which they could attack the U.S., provides weapons and funds, and then arrests people who haven’t yet taken any action to be real “investigations.”

Rezwan Ferdaus

I’m really getting sick and tired of reading stories like the one that broke on Wednesday about a young Ashland, MA man named Rezwan Ferdaus. Ferdaus is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. He was indicted yesterday for

attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive, attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises, receiving firearms and explosive materials, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and a terrorist organization.

“With the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center,’ and killing as many ‘kafirs’ [an Arabic term meaning nonbelievers] as possible, Ferdaus extensively planned and took substantial steps to bomb the United States Pentagon and United State Capitol Building using remote controlled aircraft filled with explosives,”

Read the indictment here (PDF).

Please keep in mind that the “investigation” of Ferdaus was done by the FBI. This is the same FBI that can’t get their 80-year-old definition of rape changed without being pressured for years, after which they finally decide to form a committee to consider proposed changes. This is the same FBI that couldn’t catch Whitey Bulger for 16 years even though he hiding in plain sight. Never mind that, this is the same FBI that tried to use Whitey Bulger as an “informant” while he was murdering people right and left. This is the same FBI whose agents enabled Bulger to go on the lam instead of being prosecuted. By 1994, the FBI was “considered compromised” and so the DEA joined with Massachusetts law enforcement to investigate Bulger, and chose not to inform the FBI of their task force.

This is just a bit of the history of FBI incompetence in the Boston area. Imagine if we looked at the agency’s failures in every major city and state!

I want to begin my recommended reads on the Ferdaus case with a piece by a Boston writer who knows the local background of FBI “investigations” well. Here’s Charlie Pierce, writing at Esquire Magazine. He suggests that the FBI is “busting its own conspiracies.”

Up until now, “homegrown terrorism” has been a phrase reserved for people like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, and Kevin Harpham, who tried to do the same to the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane last January. In other words, “homegrown terrorism” meant rightwing violence either in fact, or in actual attempt…Now…what is being called “homegrown terrorism” is being applied to Ferdaus, an America citizen who is a Muslim. And certainly, if the FBI is to be believed — which is always a very big if, especially in Boston, as history has taught us — Ferdaus had it in him to be a very bad actor. If the FBI is to be believed, he had every intention of carrying out his plans. If the FBI is to be believed, he spouted off extensively to FBI agents whom Ferdaus believed were recruiters for Al Qaeda. He bought cellphones to be used as detonators. On Wednesday, he took delivery of what he believed to be weapons and explosives, which is when the FBI busted him. The Justice Department even helpfully supplied a photo of a model of a Sabre jet of the type it says Ferdaus planned to use to deliver his explosives.

If the FBI is to be believed, that is.

But why should we believe them? Look at their history. Just think about what the FBI did back in the ’60s and ’70s–spying on the Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Vietnam Veterans who spoke out against the war, and of course peace activists of every stripe. This is their history: enabling criminals and persecuting anyone who questions the government. And since 9/11, they have almost no brakes on their activities. Back to Charlie Pierce:

Ferdaus is only the latest person arrested by the FBI for being part of what they believed to be an enterprise — terrorist or otherwise — in which his “partners” actually were FBI agents themselves. (There is no evidence yet presented that Ferdaus did anything except run his mouth prior to meeting the two counterfeit jihadis who worked for Uncle Sam.) The pattern is now familiar. There is an announcement at maximum volume. The suspect is usually described as being fully dedicated — and fully capable — of carrying out the plans he is charged with making. And, as a bonus, all the psychological alarms that the country has been carrying around since 9/11 begin to rattle to life again. The problems arise when the cases fall part, as several of them have, or when the question arises as to whether or not the FBI is simply busting its own conspiracies. When the cases fall apart, or when they turn out to be rather less serious than the original blare of publicity would have had the nation believe, the news is often buried, but the fear and the political utility of the original announcement remain.

Again, why should we believe them this time? Will Ferdaus get a fair trial? Will he be tortured? Who knows? But I do not trust these people. Anyway, I’ve collected some interesting reads on this subject to share with you today. Please feel free to discuss any other stories you wish in the comments.

First, Mother Jones had a great series awhile back on the FBI, and they have posted an update on the Ferdaus case.

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

From the Aaronson article on the FBI’s use of informants:

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

I find that very frightening. Please read the whole article if you can find the time. Talking Points Memo has more information on the supposed “plot,” along with photos provided by the FBI. But check this out: a guy who knows a lot about the model planes in question says the plan wouldn’t work.

As hobbyist Bill DiRenzo warms up the real jet engine of his remote control airplane, he said the alleged plot to use jets like his to blow up the U.S. Capitol or the Pentagon sounds a little far-fetched.

[….]

DiRenzo said the suspect most likely didn’t even have the skills needed to make his alleged plot succeed.

“If you’ve never flown one, there’s no way, especially these turbine powered ones where there are the safety issues. I mean there’s so many things in the sophistication in the electronics in it. You have to be in the hobby to even think about doing what that kid did,” DiRenzo said.

DiRenzo also said from what he’s seen and read, the planes the suspect allegedly tried to use in his plot were simply not large enough to carry the explosives and the guidance system needed to be successful.

“They’re pretty close to their wing load when they take off, so to put 40 pounds of explosives on it, even some of these huge jets I have seen, they wouldn’t fly,” DiRenzo said.

The FBI is clearly targeting young Muslim-American men for their terror sting operations, so I’d like to call your attention to this scary story by Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room blog about the FBI’s blatantly bigoted attitudes toward Muslim-Americans.

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.

Read it and weep. This is what we’ve come to as a country. At the UK Guardian, there are some questions being asked: FBI faces entrapment questions over Rezwan Ferdaus bomb plot arrest

The dramatic arrest of a man in Massachusetts accused of plotting to crash explosive-filled miniature airplanes into the US Capitol and the Pentagon has sparked fresh concerns that the FBI might be using entrapment techniques aimed at Muslims in America.

[….]

some legal organisations and Muslim groups have questioned whether Ferdaus, whose activities were carried out with two undercover FBI agents posing as terrorists, would have been able to carry out such a sophisticated plot if left to his own devices. In numerous previous cases in the US, the FBI has been accused of over-zealousness in its investigations and of entrapping people into terror plots who might otherwise not have carried out an attack.

“It deeply concerns us. It is another in a pattern of high-profile cases. Would this person have conceived or executed this plot without the influence of the FBI?” said Heidi Boghosian, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also expressed its concern and wondered if more details would later emerge at trial that showed the full scale of the FBI involvement in setting up the sting. “There is a big, big difference between a plot initiated by the FBI and a plot initiated by a suspect, and it seems this might have been initiated by the FBI,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s director of communications.

There lots more in the article. Finally, here’s an excellent blog post by Stephen Lendman, “Entrapping Muslims in America,” and a scare story in the Christian Science Monitor about how we’re going to be attacked by terrorists with drones. In actuality, it is the U.S. who is attacking other countries (and U.S. citizens abroad) with drones. Talk about projection!

Those are my offerings for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Saturday Reads: Obama’s War on Old People, Solyndra-gate, and Violent Protest in Cairo

Good Morning!!

Things are getting so bad for President Obama that I almost feel sorry for him. The reactions to his speech last night are still coming in, and they aren’t all that great. Sure Krugman tried to sound a little enthusiastic, but he ended up damning Obama’s jobs plan with faint praise.

O.K., about the Obama plan: It calls for about $200 billion in new spending — much of it on things we need in any case, like school repair, transportation networks, and avoiding teacher layoffs — and $240 billion in tax cuts. That may sound like a lot, but it actually isn’t. The lingering effects of the housing bust and the overhang of household debt from the bubble years are creating a roughly $1 trillion per year hole in the U.S. economy, and this plan — which wouldn’t deliver all its benefits in the first year — would fill only part of that hole. And it’s unclear, in particular, how effective the tax cuts would be at boosting spending.

Still, the plan would be a lot better than nothing, and some of its measures, which are specifically aimed at providing incentives for hiring, might produce relatively a large employment bang for the buck. As I said, it’s much bolder and better than I expected. President Obama’s hair may not be on fire, but it’s definitely smoking; clearly and gratifyingly, he does grasp how desperate the jobs situation is.

But his plan isn’t likely to become law, thanks to Republican opposition.

Robert Reich applauded the President’s “passion,” but not the plan itself. Reich’s reaction to the Jobs plan:

$450 billion sounds like a lot – and is more than I expected — but some of this merely extends current spending (unemployment benefits) and tax cuts (in Social Security taxes), so it doesn’t add to aggregate demand.

The net new boost to the economy is closer to $300 billion. That doesn’t approach even half the gap between what the economy is now producing and what it could produce at or near full employment.

And much that $300 billion is in the form of temporary tax cuts to individuals and companies. Some of these make sense — enlarging the Social Security tax cut, extending it to employers, and giving small businesses a tax holiday for new hires.

But temporary tax cuts haven’t proven to be particularly effective in stimulating new spending in times of economic stress. People tend to use them to pay off debts or increase savings. Companies use them to reduce costs, but they won’t make additional hires unless they expect additional sales – which won’t occur unless consumers increase their spending.

That leaves some $140 billion for infrastructure – improving outworn school buildings, roads, bridges, ports, and so on. And $35 billion to help cash-starved states avoid more layoffs teachers. Both good and important but still small relative to the overall need.

Just exactly what Dakinikat has been telling us forever. And when The New York Times talked to employers about the plan, most said the tax cuts and credits would be welcome but would not stimulate new hiring until there is consumer demand for their goods and services. Again, exactly what we’ve been hearing from Dakinikat all along.

The saddest article I have seen about Obama’s jobs speech is Dana Millbank’s column from yesterday: The irrelevancy of the Obama presidency. According to Millbank, Congressional Republicans treated the speech as “a big, fat joke.”

“You should pass this jobs plan right away!” Obama exhorted. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) chuckled.

“Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — an outrage he has asked us to fix,” Obama went on. Widespread laughter broke out on the GOP side of the aisle.

“This isn’t political grandstanding,” Obama said. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) guffawed.

“This isn’t class warfare,” Obama said. More hysterics on the right.

“We’ve identified over 500 [regulatory] reforms, which will save billions of dollars,” the president claimed. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) giggled.

And according to Millbank, Democrats weren’t all that thrilled either.

In fact, the empty seats were on the Democratic side. Democrats lumbered to their feet to give the president several standing ovations, but they struggled at times to demonstrate enthusiasm. When Obama proposed payroll tax cuts for small businesses, three Democrats stood to applaud. Summer jobs for disadvantaged youth brought six Democrats to their feet, and a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed produced 11 standees….Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) stared at the ceiling. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) scanned the gallery. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was seen reading a newspaper.

Before the speech, Joe Biden actually discussed golf with John Boehner! I really think this President is done. I suppose a miracle could happen and something could stop the train wreck, but I can’t imagine what it would be.

Maybe Obama should read Joe Conason’s article about how Rick Perry tried to privatize Medicaid in Texas and ended up “wasting millions and enriching lobbyists and hedge funds. Oh wait — maybe not. I think that’s probably what Obama wants to do with Social Security and Medicare.

Another problem facing Obama is the Solyndra Energy bankruptcy and investigation. As I wrote a few days ago, Solyndra is a solar energy company which received $535 million in federal loans from Obama’s stimulus plan. Many observers, including the CBO, questioned whether the loan was too risky, but the White House may have intervened to make sure it happened. One of Obama’s biggest donors, George Kaiser owns more than 30% of Solyndra. For some time, Republicans in the House have been asking for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the loan, especially since the company went bankrupt last week. Now, in a new development the FBI raided Solyndra’s headquarters and today visited the homes of its corporate officers.

From Bloomberg:

An FBI raid on Solyndra Inc., a solar-panel maker that failed after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department, may signal the escalation of a probe into the Obama administration’s clean- energy program.

Agents for Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman, who has called the department’s clean-energy loan program lacking in “transparency and accountability,” joined in the search yesterday at the Fremont, California, headquarters of Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6.

Republicans critical of the program stepped up their attacks following the raid, and two House Democrats questioned the integrity of the company, indicating a potential political crisis for the president. A foundation headed by an Obama campaign contributor was a principal investor in Solyndra….

Friedman, a watchdog within the Energy Department, said in a March report that a lack of adequate documentation for loans “leaves the department open to criticism that it may have exposed the taxpayers to unacceptable risks associated with these borrowers.”

From the Wall Street Journal

The Federal Bureau of Investigation continued its probe into solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC on Friday by visiting the homes of President and Chief Executive Brian Harrison, as well as former executives and co-founders Chris Gronet and J. Kelly Truman, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, is the target of an investigation into whether executives knowingly misled the Department of Energy to secure a $527 million loan guarantee, The Wall Street Journal reported. On Thursday, the FBI seized documents and computers from Solyndra’s headquarters in Fremont, Calif.

Harrison’s home wasn’t searched on Friday, but he was questioned, according to one person with knowledge of the matter. Harrison, who joined the company in 2010, after the loan was awarded, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Gronet, Solyndra’s former CEO, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Truman, a former senior vice president at Solyndra, is currently president and chief executive of energy storage developer Deeya Energy. A person answering the phone at Deeya said, “He is not taking phone calls.”

I guess it’s a good thing for Obama that we suddenly heard about a terror threat yesterday, huh?

In other, completely unrelated news, a protest by thousands of people in Cairo “turned violent” yesterday.

A demonstration that brought tens of thousands to this city’s central Tahrir Square turned violent on Friday, when thousands of people — led by a heavy contingent of soccer fans — tore down a protective wall around the Israeli Embassy, while others defaced the headquarters of the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

About 200 people were injured in clashes with the police at the Israeli Embassy and 31 were injured near the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Health said late Friday night. Protesters apparently had scaled the walls of the Israeli Embassy to tear down its flag.

Mustafa el Sayed, 28, said he had been among about 20 protesters who broke into the embassy. He showed a reporter video from a cellphone, of protesters rummaging through papers and ransacking an office, and he said they had briefly beaten up an Israeli employee they found inside, before Egyptian soldiers stopped them. He said the soldiers removed the protesters from the building, but let them go free.

By 11:30 p.m., about 50 trucks had arrived with Egyptian riot police officers, who filled the surrounding streets with tear gas. Witnesses said that protesters had set a kiosk on fire in front of a security building near the embassy, and that the police had fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd from both buildings. In addition, a fire broke out in the basement of the Interior Ministry, but it appeared to have been started from the inside and not by the protesters surrounding the building. The fire was in a room believed to store criminal records.


US Citizens Arrested, Interrogated, and Stranded Overseas

Gulet Mohamed surrounded by family on return to U.S.

From The New York Times, January 5, 2011:

An American teenager detained in Kuwait two weeks ago and placed on an American no-fly list claims that he was severely beaten by his Kuwaiti captors during a weeklong interrogation about possible contacts with terrorism suspects in Yemen.

The teenager, Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-American who turned 19 during his captivity, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a Kuwaiti detention cell that he was beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, threatened with electric shocks and warned that his mother would be imprisoned if he did not give truthful answers about his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009.

American officials have offered few details about the case, except to confirm that Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States. Mr. Mohamed, from Alexandria, Va., remains in a Kuwaiti detention center even after Kuwait’s government, according to his brother, determined that he should be released.

During the interview with the NYT, Mohammed said, “I am a good Muslim, I despise terrorism.”

During the 90-minute telephone interview, Mr. Mohamed was agitated as he recounted his captivity, tripping over his words and breaking into tears. He said he left the United States in March 2009 to “see the world and learn my religion,” and had planned to return to the United States for college.

He said he had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, but stayed less than a month because his mother worried about his safety. He said that he spent five months later that year living with an aunt and uncle in northern Somalia, before moving to Kuwait in August 2009 to live with an uncle and continue his Arabic studies.

Mohammed’s ordeal began when he went to the airport in Kuwait to renew his travel visa. He was held for five hours and then handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a prison where he was interrogated and beaten on his feet and face with sticks when he didn’t give the “right answers.”

“Are you a terrorist?” they asked, according to his account.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know Anwar?” his interrogators asked, referring to Mr. Awlaki.

“I’ve never met him,” Mr. Mohamed recalled saying.

“You are from Virginia, you have to know him,” they responded, according to Mr. Mohamed. From 2001 to 2002, Mr. Awlaki was the imam of a prominent mosque in northern Virginia.

Mohammed told the NYT in January that even after being released, he couldn’t sleep or eat and was constantly fearful. He said he has “always been pro-American” and obviously could not understand why he was targeted. After the article in the NYT, Mohammed was finally permitted to return home later in January. He told the Washington Post that his ordeal had “made me stronger.”

Mohammed is only one of many American citizens of Middle Eastern or African descent who have found themselves stranded overseas, unable to return home because their names have been put on a no-fly list while they were out of the country. Many of these people have been arrested and interrogated by foreign governments, apparently at the request of the F.B.I. From the Post article (1/21/2011):

Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list. Of those stranded overseas, all were eventually told they could return, often after they agreed to speak to the FBI. None was arrested upon their return.

The ACLU suit, filed in Portland, Ore., alleges that Americans placed on the no-fly list are denied due process because there is no effective way to challenge their inclusion. The government does not acknowledge that any particular individual is on the no-fly list or its other watch lists. Nor will it reveal the exact criteria it uses to place people on its list.

This week Mother Jones published a series of reports on their investigations of FBI operations that sound like COINTELPRO updated.

COINTELPRO was an FBI covert operation that targeted domestic left-wing and anti-war groups from 1956 to 1971, in the name of “national security.” Frankly, the covert operations have probably continued even though they are technically illegal. But lately we’ve seen an uptick in FBI operations targeting groups within the U.S. Until I came across a couple of blog posts last week about American muslims being targeted overseas, I had no idea the FBI had branched out to foreign covert operations.

At Mother Jones, Nick Baumann writes:

In the past, the FBI has denied that it asks foreign governments to apprehend Americans. But, a Mother Jones investigation has found, the bureau has a long-standing and until now undisclosed program for facilitating such detentions. Coordinated by elite agents who serve in terrorism hot spots around the world, the practice enables the interrogation of American suspects outside the US justice system. “Their citizenship doesn’t seem to matter to the government,” says Daphne Eviatar, a lawyer with Human Rights First. “It raises a question of whether there’s a whole class of people out there who’ve been denied the right to return home for the purpose of interrogation in foreign custody.”

I highly recommend reading the whole article. Baumann describes other cases similar to Mohammed’s and reveals information he obtained from government officials and representatives of human rights groups.

Here is another example from a 2010 Huffpo article:

Yahya Wehelie

A Virginia man said he has been stuck in limbo in Egypt for the last six weeks, living in a cheap hotel and surviving on fast food after his name was placed on a U.S. no-fly list because of a trip to Yemen.

Yahya Wehelie, a 26-year-old Muslim who was born in Fairfax, Virginia to Somali parents, said Wednesday he spent 18 months studying in Yemen and left in early May. The U.S. has been scrutinizing citizens who study in Yemen more closely since the man who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas was linked to an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

Wehelie was returning to the U.S. with his brother Yusuf via Egypt on May 5 when Egyptian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight to New York. They told him the FBI wanted to speak with him.

He said he was then told by FBI agents in Egypt that his name was on a no-fly list because of people he met in Yemen and he could not board a U.S. airline or enter American airspace. His passport was canceled and a new one issued only for travel to the United States, which expires on Sept. 12. He does not have Somali citizenship.

Wehelie said his brother Yusuf was allowed to return home, but only after he was detained for three days by Egyptian police on suspicion of carrying weapon. He said his brother was shackled to a jail wall and interrogated by a man who claimed to work for the CIA. He was then dumped in the street outside the prison when he feigned illness.

In June, 2010, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) posted a list of American Muslims who had been kept from returning to the U.S. after trips abroad.

In July, 2010, CAIR posted a warning on its website informing Muslim-Americans that they could end up in “forced exile” if they traveled to another country.

CAIR this week issued an advisory to American Muslims — whether citizens, permanent residents or visa holders — warning of the risk of “forced exile” when traveling overseas or attempting to return to the United States. Muslim travelers are urged to know their legal rights if they are placed on the so-called “no-fly list.”

In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.

FBI agents have reportedly told a number of individuals that they face being stranded outside the United States longer, or forever, unless they give up their rights to legal representation or to refuse interrogations and polygraph tests. But even those who submitted to interrogations without an attorney or to the “lie detector” tests remain stranded.

This situation is outrageous, and President Obama should be directly confronted about his support of this un-American, authoritarian policy (White House approval is required for many of these FBI activities). Perhaps a relatively high profile article like the one in Mother Jones will influence some mainstream reporters to do that. In the meantime, please spread the word in any way you can.


Mr. President, How About Supporting Democracy in the U.S.?

Yesterday, President Obama hypocrically praised the Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators and argued forcefully in favor of the Egyptian government listening and responding to the demands of its people.

There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.

By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change. But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition. It’s a beginning. I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead, and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers, and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks. For Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.

Back here in the U.S., President Obama listens only to the rich and powerful while ignoring a level of inequality higher than that in Egypt and an unemployment rate approximately the same as Egypt’s!

In the speech, Obama quoted a man who really stood for nonviolent protest and the fight for democracy:

As Martin Luther King said in celebrating the birth of a new nation in Ghana while trying to perfect his own, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.” Those were the cries that came from Tahrir Square, and the entire world has taken note.

How dare you, Mr. Obama? You are a disgrace. You repeatedly imply comparisons between you and Martin Luther King, while behaving more like Mr. Mubarak.

What happens here in the U.S. when people peacefully protest the government’s policies? If it happens at Democratic or Republican party conventions, protesters are put in cages ironically called “free speech zones” that are far enough from the action to prevent the powerful from being disturbed by democracy-seeking rabble. Peace activists who identify as socialists or dare to support freedom movements in foreign countries are targeted by thuggish FBI raids and secret grand juries.

Mr. President, you and other members of your administration have repeatedly called for the Egyptian government to repeal its emergency laws. What about the emergency laws that have been in place here in the U.S. for many years?

Although most Americans would be surprised to hear it, the United States is technically experiencing more than one ongoing national emergency. In 1979, during the Iran Hostage Crisis, president Jimmy Carter declared a national emergency by executive order, which every president since has renewed. George W. Bush declared a separate state of emergency after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Barack Obama renewed.

These emergency measures are limited rather than general in nature. The 1976 National Emergencies Act set a two-year term on emergency declarations (although it’s possible to extend a declaration indefinitely), and requires the president to specify what, exactly, the state of emergency empowers him to do. The Sept. 11-related emergency gives the president the right to call retired officers back into active duty (among other powers). The Iran emergency prevents American citizens and companies from entering into oil development contracts with the Islamic Republic.

Those states of emergency have allowed you and your mentor predecessor George W. Bush to gain authoritarian powers for the executive branch through the USA Patriot Act and other unconstitutional laws like the Military Commissions Act. The powers granted by these laws have frequently been abused by government agencies.

Free Speech Zone at Democratic Convention, 2008

The Patriot Act has been reauthorized multiple times and is currently up for renewal.

So, Mr. Obama, what is your position on the latest attempts to keep the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act from expiring?

When the act was first signed into law, Congress put in some “sunset” provisions to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, but they were ignored by successive extensions. Unfortunately, those concerns proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records of Americans without a warrant.

The answer to that question is that the President wants those provisions extended for three years–two years longer than the Republicans in the House are pushing for!

The Senate is working on an extension also, and one of the leaders in support of that effort is “Democrat” Diane Feinstein (whose investment banker husband has profited handsomely from defense contracts and other government largess related to the financial crisis)

At least one mainstream journalist has called attention to the hypocrisy of your policies this morning, Mr. President–focusing on your disdain for the poor and unemployed in the U.S. In the NYT, Bob Herbert writes:

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.

The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.

It’s noteworthy that Bob Herbert is saying such things out loud these days, but what we really need is some serious consciousness-raising among the American people as a whole. We could be joining together to fight back against encroachments on our liberties and our economic stability like the people in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. When will Americans wake up and see what is happening right here in the USA and begin to demand the restoration of our freedoms and our living standards? When will we fight back against growing government tyranny right here in the USA?


TGIF Reads

Good Morning!

It’s finally Friday.

Rahm Emanuel was back on the ballot and part of a debate for candidates for the Mayor of Chicago last night.   The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor. Evidently the case relied a lot on the ‘intent’ of Rahm whose lawyers argued that he had left books in the basement of his old house, rented the house out instead of selling it and other behaviors that showed that he was just away temporarily performing some kind of national service.   The city is now free to print its ballots.

The justices found that Emanuel never displayed an intent to permanently abandon his Chicago home, which they said would have been the trigger to render him ineligible. Instead, they said, it was clear that when he went to Washington, he always planned the move to be temporary and to return to Chicago one day.

The court said the appellate panel hung its decision on a misinterpretation of an 1867 Illinois Supreme Court case involving a judge who temporarily moved to Tennessee but always planned to come back. In essence, the Appellate Court concluded that the 19th century decision didn’t cover Emanuel and that residency should be defined as where one rests his head at night.

It seems unlikely that reform on the senate filibuster will have much of an impact.  It looks like it will be small if at all.

But Democrats never seemed able to reach an agreement on the scope or type of changes, and Reid announced a more modest set of changes on which the parties would vote Thursday afternoon.

The reforms include an end to secret holds, a reduction in the number of presidential nominations subject to the lengthy Senate confirmation process, an end to mandatory readings for amendments if they’ve been publicly available for at least three days, an agreement by Republicans to limit their filibusters of motions to begin debate, and an agreement by Democrats to limit instances in which they “fill the tree” — or limit the number of amendments Republicans can put to a given piece of legislation.

Perhaps the most significant agreement was that of changing the filibuster, the principal tool of the minority to stall or block legislation. Republicans used the tactic to great effect in the last Congress, though Democrats griped that the process had been abused at an unprecedented level.

Protests continue in Egypt as the scent of Jasmine spreads.  The Economist looks at what this could potentially mean to Arab leaders as the people in the era look for democracy.   The US is obviously nervous about any potential uptick for groups like The Muslim Brotherhood who could take the country in the opposite direction.

Mr Mubarak, like the rest of the Arab world’s autocrats, will be pondering the despot’s eternal dilemma. Is it better to loosen controls in order to satisfy their people with a whiff of freedom, or to tighten them in an effort to ensure their docility?

The fate of Tunisia’s strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, suggests that an angry people will be satisfied with neither. If Mr Mubarak truly put his country’s interests first, he would immediately promise to retire before the next presidential election, due in September. At the very least he would ensure that the contest is a genuinely open one, not another farce.

The NYT looks at the possible role of religion in the Egyptian protests.

Heightening the tension, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest organized opposition group in the country, announced Thursday that it would take part in the protest. The support of the Brotherhood could well change the calculus on the streets, tipping the numbers in favor of the protesters and away from the police, lending new strength to the demonstrations and further imperiling President Hosni Mubarak’s reign of nearly three decades.

“Tomorrow is going to be the day of the intifada,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt’s second largest city, who declined to give his name because he said he would be arrested if he did. The spokesman said that the group was encouraging members of its youth organization — roughly those 15 to 30 years old — to take part in protests.

But Islam is hardly homogeneous, and many religious leaders here said Thursday that they would not support the protests, for reasons including scriptural prohibitions on defying rulers and a belief that democratic change would not benefit them. “We Salafists are not going to participate in any of the demonstrations tomorrow,” said Sheik Yasir Burhami, a leading figure among the fundamentalist Salafists in Alexandria.

One troubling thing is that the Egyptian government has ‘shut down the internet‘. SMS messages have also been blocked.  The US government has called on the Egyptian authorities to stop the block.

While access directly to the Facebook and Twitter websites are inaccessible from within Egypt, protesters are circumventing the blocks in place by using mobile applications which still work. Proxy websites are also being used, as they mask the address of website, allowing those to access social networking sites.

But as the blocking measures are failing, it appears that Egypt has sanctioned measures to ’shut down’ web access, fearing the same reprisals as seen in Tunisia earlier this month where the government collapsed and the president was forced into exile.

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