Our weird winter weather is continuing. This morning’s temperature outside my house is zero degrees! And we’re expecting five more inches of snow this afternoon, most of it during the afternoon rush hour. I guess all I can do is grin and bear it.
Now let’s see what’s happening in the news today.
Lots of people are excited about the ruling yesterday by US District Court Judge Richard Leon that NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is “likely unconstitutional,” but the decision is on hold pending appeal by the Feds and as Reuters notes this morning, SCOTUS is probably going to have the final say on what happens to NSA surveillance programs following revelations from the massive trove of data stolen by Edward Snowden and passed to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.
“This is the opening salvo in a very long story, but it’s important symbolically in dispelling the invincibility of the metadata program,” said Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert at the American University law school.
Vladeck said 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have examined Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the provision of law under which the data collection takes place, without finding constitutional problems. “There’s a disconnect between the 15 judges on the FISA court who seem to think it’s a no-brainer that Section 215 is constitutional, and Judge Leon, who seems to think otherwise.”
Vladeck said there is a long road of court tests ahead for both sides in this dispute and said a higher court ultimately could avoid ruling on the big constitutional issue identified by Leon. “There are five or six different issues in these cases,” Vladeck said.
Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, predicted Leon’s decision was highly likely to be reversed on appeal. He said the collection of telephone metadata — the issue in Monday’s ruling — already has been addressed and resolved by the Supreme Court.
Maybe the solution would be to repeal the Patriot Act? Anyway, I think it’s important to note that this lawsuit was brought by Larry Klayman, a certified right wing nut who used to head Judicial Watch and now runs something called Freedom Watch.
In the 1990s, he filed numerous lawsuits against President Bill Clinton and his administration, alleging a litany of personal and professional transgressions. Mr. Klayman later nettled Vice President Dick Cheney over his secret energy policy meetings and claimed that members of George W. Bush’s administration might have known in advance of the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington.
More recently, Mr. Klayman, who has been called “Litigious Larry,” sued OPEC, accusing oil-rich nations of price fixing and of trying to “bring Western economies to their knees.” And he sued Facebook and its founder for $1 billion when, he said, it was too slow to take down a web page that threatened Jews with death.
The guy is a weirdo, so I have to wonder what it was that convinced a conservative Bush-appointed judge like Leon. And will ne be able to convince our right wing Supreme Court? I’d love to see NSA reined in, but I have serious doubts as to whether it will happen.
More on Klayman:
Mr. Klayman is a fixture of sorts in Washington. He founded, and then parted ways, with the conservative interest group Judicial Watch, which continues litigating grievances despite Mr. Klayman’s bitter departure. (He sued Judicial Watch, too, accusing it of breach of contract and other offenses.) His 2009 book is titled “Whores: Why and How I Came to Fight the Establishment.”
Mr. Klayman has not spared the current Democratic administration. At a Tea Party rally in October, he urged conservatives “to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”
Last year, Mr. Klayman filed a lawsuit in Florida arguing that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because “neither Mr. Obama, nor the Democratic Party of Florida, nor any other group has confirmed that Mr. Obama is a ‘natural born citizen’ since his father was a British subject born in Kenya and not a citizen of the United States.”
On June 6, just a day after the Guardian report [on Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA phone data collection], Klayman filed suit in Washington on his own behalf and on behalf of two clients — Charles and Mary Ann Strange, parents of a Navy SEAL killed in a disastrous helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011….
Klayman said he and Charles Strange were being targeted by the government because of their claims relating to Strange’s son’s death, which include a complaint that a Muslim imam cursed the dead SEAL team members during a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base.
“My colleagues have received text messages I never sent,” Klayman told the judge. “I think they’re messing with me,” he said, referring to the government.
Klayman implored the judge to rule against the NSA program not only on legal grounds but in order to avert what the conservative gadfly said was a violent revolution on the verge of breaking out due to the federal governments [sic] unbridled use of power.
“We live in an Orwellian state,” Klayman said, warning that citizens angry about surveillance were about to “rise up.”
If litigation fails, “the only alternative is for people to take matters into their own hands,” he told Leon.
I wonder what parts of these arguments convinced Judge Leon?
Despite the weirdness, Charles Pierce is cheering Leon’s decision:
No matter what you think of Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald, and no matter what you think of what they did, this ruling does not happen if the NSA doesn’t let a contractor walk out of the joint with the family jewels on a flash drive. This ruling does not happen if we do not know what we now know, and we don’t know any of that unless Snowden gathers the data and leaks it to the Guardian. This entire country was founded after a revolution that was touched off to a great extent by the concept of individual privacy. I can forsee it becoming common practice, to use the best VPN service available to protect ourselves and our famillies.
Read all about it at the Esquire link.
I know it’s difficult for some males to understand this, but if Americans do have a right to privacy, then American women should also have that right in making decisions about what happens to their bodies–they should be able to choose whether or not and/or when to have a child. Therefore, they should have access to birth control and abortion without the interference of the state. If women–who represent more than 1/2 of the U.S. population–can’t have privacy; then there is a very big disconnect in the law that needs to be clarified. Are women people? Are they citizens? Griswald and Roe were also decided on the basis of privacy.
After their fluff piece on NSA on Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes announced yesterday that Lara Logan, who was “suspended” after she hosted an utterly false report on the Benghazi attacks, will be returning to the program next year. Politico’s Dylan Byers:
Logan and McClellan took leave following public pressure over an Oct. 27 report in which security contractor Dylan Davies claimed to have been present and active at the Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Reports later indicated that Davies had told both his contractor and the FBI that he was not present at the compound on the night of the attack. Logan later apologized and “60 Minutes” retracted the story.
Despite public criticism and internal frustrations among some members of the “60 Minutes” team, CBS News chairman and “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager decided to stand by Logan. Earlier this month, he held a meeting with CBS News staff in which he defended the 42-year-old journalist, saying that as EP he was ultimately responsible for failing to catch the mistake.
As an antidote, I recommend reading TBogg’s take on this decision at Raw Story: Lara Logan is tan, rested and ready to come back and be kind of bad at her job again.
Last week, it was revealed that LA Sheriff’s Office deputies who have been indicted by a Grand Jury had illegally arrested and “roughed up” two foreign diplomats in 2011. From the LA Times:
An Austrian consulate official was improperly arrested and searched by L.A. County sheriff’s deputies at the Men’s Central Jail, according to four indictments filed against 18 department officials.
The incident occurred in 2011 when the official and her husband were visiting an inmate who was an Austrian national….
The Austrian consul’s husband was arrested outside the jail because he had walked near the doors going into the visiting center, according to one of the indictments unsealed Monday.
When the consul requested to speak to a supervisor about her husband’s arrest, she too was placed in handcuffs and arrested, even though she had committed no crime and would have been immune from prosecution, the indictment said.
The couple were taken to a deputy break room and searched, the indictment said.
Read more details at the link. And from Firedoglake, Peter Van Buren explains why this is so outrageous:
One of the primary jobs for any embassy or consulate abroad is the welfare of its citizens. Indeed, many of the first diplomatic outposts abroad were set up to protect sailors and merchants. This work typically includes visiting one’s citizens in foreign jails, a task young diplomats around the world conduct. As a State Department foreign service officer myself for 24 years, I must have done this hundreds of times. But no matter how many times I did it, it was always an unsettling feeling to walk into a jail, go through security into a cell or holding room, and then walk back out.
Getting out, and being treated properly inside, was however more than an act of faith on my part. Diplomats abroad are protected people; under both formal treaties and long-established traditions (“diplomatic immunity”), a country should not mess around with another’s diplomats. Take a look at Iran– over thirty years since the kidnapping of American diplomats in Tehran, our two countries still are a long, long way from reestablishing relations.
I once safely visited in an underground facility of an Asian country’s secret police an American Citizen who likely had been tortured. The system generally works everywhere, from first world countries to crappy police states in the developing world. However, one rough area where it does not work is in Los Angeles.
Please read the rest if you can.
Today we learn that the NYPD also abused a foreign diplomat. The woman, a deputy consul general at the Indian embassy in NYC was arrested and handcuffed on the street and then subjected to a strip search at police headquarters. From The Guardian:
Bulldozers have removed security barriers outside the US embassy in Delhi as a diplomatic row prompted by the arrest of an Indian diplomat on visa fraud charges in New York intensified.
India’s national security adviser on Tuesday called the treatment of Khobragade “despicable and barbaric” and the country’s foreign secretary summoned the US ambassador. Politicians – including Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and vice chairman of the ruling Congress party, and Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist opposition BJP – refused to meet a visiting US congressional delegation.
The removal of the barriers was one of a slew of retaliatory actions taken by the Indian government as outrage at the arrest grew, including the withdrawal of import clearances and special airport passes. The incident has become a major story in India, dominating TV bulletins.
The false statements were that Khobragade had agreed to pay the housekeeper the New York minimum wage ($9.25), but had agreed privately with the woman that her actual salary would be only 1/3 that amount.
Furious with the US for the arrest and alleged strip search of its high-ranking diplomat Devyani Khobragade, India today retaliated with a slew of measures to pare down the privileges of American diplomats. (10 latest developments)
US diplomats in consulates across India have been asked to surrender identity cards issued to them and their families, which entitle them to special privileges. India has also withdrawn all airport passes for consulates and import clearances for the embassy.
The Delhi police removed barricades outside the sprawling US embassy in the capital.
Ms Khobragade was subjected to a humiliating strip search and was kept in a cell with drug addicts after her arrest for alleged visa fraud in New York last week. (Read) Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the US State Department, told NDTV that standard procedures had been followed during Ms Khobragade’s arrest.
The US has implied that she enjoyed only limited immunity.
As part of its reciprocal measures, India is asking for details like salaries paid to Indian staff employed in US consulates, including those working as domestic helps with the families of American officials.
It seems that, between the NSA revelations and the increasing use of police state tactics by law enforcement, the US is managing to alienate much of the rest of all the world.
I’m out of space, so I’ll wrap this up. Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a great day!
I thought I’d take a few looks at what should be done differently in this country if we indeed we’re interested in progressing as an entire nation. It seems these days the only folks that progress are the politicians and their owners. So, hold on here, we go.
Booz Allen reacted with anger in a press statement released hours later:
“News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”
Core values? Let’s examine Booz Allen Hamilton’s track record.
In February 2012, the US air force suspended Booz Allen from seeking government contracts after it discovered that Joselito Meneses, a former deputy chief of information technology for the air force, had given Booz Allen a hard drive with confidential information about a competitor’s contracting on the first day that he went to work for the company in San Antonio, Texas. US air force legal counsel concluded (pdf):
“Booz Allen did not uncover indications and signals of broader systemic ethical issues within the firm. These events caused the air force to have serious concerns regarding the responsibility of Booz Allen, specifically, its San Antonio office, including its business integrity and honesty, compliance with government contracting requirements, and the adequacy of its ethics program.”
It should be noted that Booz Allen reacted swiftly to the government investigation of the conflict of interest. In April that year, the air force lifted the suspension – but only after Booz Allen had accepted responsibility for the incident and fired Meneses, as well as agreeing to pay the air force $65,000 and reinforce the firm’s ethics policy.
Not everybody was convinced about the new regime. “Unethical behavior brought on by the revolving door created problems for Booz Allen, but now the revolving door may have come to the rescue,” wrote Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight, noting that Meneses was not the only former air force officer who had subsequently become an executive in Booz Allen’s San Antonio office.
So, corruption is rampant in these organizations that only exist to expand government destruction of civil liberties. But, let’s not forget that a lot of these organizations also are responsible for our economic bad health. Rampant corruption is part and parcel of the financial industry. As our ability and desire to produce real stuff has fallen, so our national experience shows we have gambling houses for financial institutions eager for extraordinary returns. And, it’s all for profits of a few.
My chart shows this. It shows that firms were loath to invest long before the crisis. Capital spending fell relative to retained profits in the early 00s and stayed very low by historical standards. This reflects the “dearth of domestic investment opportunities” in western economies of which Ben Bernanke spoke in 2005. This is, of course, a cause of the weak income growth of which the IFS speaks; firms’ reluctance to spend held down wage and employment growth. The “Great Moderation” might have led to irrational exuberance in financial markets, but it certainly did not unleash a boom in corporate animal spirits and real investment.
In fact, one could argue – as Ravi Jagannathan has (pdf) – that the financial crisis is not the cause of our woes but rather a symptom of this underlying problem. The story goes something like this.
After 1997, Asian economies wanted to run big current account surpluses, either as a policy of export-led growth or in order to rebuild reserves depleted by the 97 crisis. By definition, this meant they were net savers, which put incipient downward pressure upon global interest rates. In a parallel universe, these high savings might have financed a boom in real capital spending in the west. But because firms couldn’t see good investment opportunities, this didn’t happen.Instead, the lower interest rates fuelled a housing boom and the hunt for yield led to strong demand for mortgage derivatives. These bubbles in housing and derivatives then burst, giving us the crisis.
In this way, we’ve seen what Marx saw in the 19th century – that a lack of profitable opportunities in the real economy pushes people down “the adventurous road of speculation, credit frauds, stock swindles, and crises.”
Our state is a pretty good example of what happens to people and the natural environment if the only driving force in a decision is profit of the owners. Here’s some information on the chemical plant explosions we recently experienced near the place I taught for a few years during grad school.
On Thursday, an explosion at a chemical plant in Geismar, La., owned by Williams Cos. Inc. led to two deaths and injuries – some serious – to dozens of others. Then late Friday, another explosion at a chemical plant just a few miles away in Donaldsonville claimed one life and injured eight people after a nitrogen tank exploded during an offload.
“The incident involved the rupture of an inert nitrogen vessel during the off-loading of nitrogen,” a news release from the company, CF Industries, said. “There was no fire or chemical release nor is there any threat or hazard posed to the community.”
Hundreds of industrial plants, many that either produce or consume poisonous and explosive chemicals, line rivers and bayous throughout the South, but in few places as heavily as around New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
Some 311 chemical manufacturers employing 15,727 people currently exist in the parishes that line the Mississippi from Baton Rouge to its mouth. That number excludes the large numbers of oil refineries and plastics manufacturers in the area.
To be sure, locals welcome jobs that pay an average of more than $40,000 a year. But explosions like the ones that roiled the river this week remind many of the dangers, both to human life and the environment, such jobs bring.
I’d like you to read a story about the Tulane Environmental Law Center and how the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction–a mentor of Bobby Jindal–tried to destroy it in an effort to let a Japanese chemical company locate here. It gives you an idea of what we’re up against when trying to protect the people, the wild life, and the natural beauty of the nation’s Mississippi delta and Gulf area.
In late 1996, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (the Clinic) took on representation of a community group called St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment in a controversial challenge to Shintech Inc.’s proposed construction of a polyvinyl chloride plant in Convent, Louisiana. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a petition to veto the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of an air permit to Shintech,1 Shintech changed its plans and located a downsized facility elsewhere in Louisiana.2
The Shintech dispute sparked a national controversy, featured on national television news shows and, ultimately, in a cable-television movie called “Taking Back Our Town.”3 A common postscript to retellings of the Shintech story is a statement that the Clinic essentially paid for its contribution to St. James Citizens’ success with its life—suffering retaliatory restrictions that supposedly would prevent it from ever representing a group like St. James Citizens again.4 In fact, the Clinic has continued to represent St. James Citizens and similar clients and continues to enjoy its fair share of successes and to weather its share of defeats.5
We continue to have efforts to suppress protection of people, animals and environments from the abuse of the petro-chemical industry. They create huge costs to taxpayers, people and the environment, yet many governments refuse to ensure these costs are recoverable and the loss of life and natural gifts prevented.
No where has the suppression of so many by so few been felt than in the area of women’s health. No less than 300 bills have been introduced this year that restrict women’s access to birth control, abortion, and basic family planning and health care.
State legislatures across the country have enacted an avalanche of restrictions that deny women of their reproductive rights. Just this year alone, more than 300 anti-abortion measures have been introduced in the states — in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
The anti-abortion legislation is an unprecedented assault on a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and health. At least 185 anti-abortion laws have been enacted since 2011, and the likelihood that more will be passed this year are very real.
“Half of pregnancies are unintended,” Elizabeth Nash told Lawyers.com. She is the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. “Instead of trying to figure out why and preventing women from being put in the situation to need an abortion, we’re doing nothing but putting all these restrictions in place to make it harder to access services when they are needed.”
The laws are the result of the 2010 elections, when droves of conservative and tea party candidates were voted into the state legislatures. The result has been a surge of radical and unconstitutional laws that choke off reproductive rights.
- Eleven states have passed abortion bans, making it illegal to get an abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization, or as early as 12 weeks in Arkansas and six weeks in North Dakota. Women are often unaware they are pregnant within this time. Roe v. Wade provides a right to abortion up to 24-26 weeks, when the fetus is viable.
- Eight states have passed “personhood” laws, giving the zygote legal rights. These laws could make an abortion a crime — regardless of rape, incest or the life of the mother.
- Eight states require the doctor to give the woman false information, such as requiring doctors to tell women that having an abortion increases their risk of suicide. Scientific research refutes this claim.
- In 26 states, women are required to receive anti-abortion “counseling” followed by a waiting period before they’re allowed to undergo an abortion.
There is a pattern of increased control of individual rights and of usurping national assets in the name of corporate profits. It’s been systemically enshrined in law at all levels of government. It is hard to be complacent in the face of these assaults. We await this week the decision of the Supreme court on issues central to GLBT rights in this country. It seems there are few government institutions that aren’t corrupted by religious nuts, anti-science nuts, and profit-addicted corporations. Whatever happened to our rights?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I’m getting a slow start this morning, so I thought I’d put up an open thread to get us started. This story is a couple of days old so you may have heard about it already, but I just had to take note of it anyway.
On Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Chariton Iowa, Senator Charles Grassley got a strange question about some wingnut conspiracy theory from one of his constituents: From the Atlantic Wire:
Constituent: They’re saying that they’re going to start, in 2013, putting microchips in government workers and then any kid that enrolls in school, starting in pre-school, will have a microchip implanted in them so that they can track them. Is that true?
Senator Grassley’s response was absolutely priceless:
Grassley: No. First of all, nothing can be done to your body without your permission….It’d be a violation of the constitutional right to privacy if that were to happen.
Here’s the video:
In case Grassley hasn’t thought about it that carefully, forcing a woman to have a baby certainly qualifies as doing something to her body without her permission. Actually, there is no right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution, but the Roe v. Wade decision created one; and Roe could certainly be used as precedent in any case relating to violations of body integrity.
In fact, the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade clearly states:
The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy. In a line of decisions, however, going back perhaps as far as Union Pacific R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891), the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution…
Roe v. Wade, of course, established the right to privacy — the kind that might spare you from a government conspiracy to embed microchips that might reveal your entire health history. Or, you know, the kind of privacy that allows women to obtain a legal abortion in this country:
This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
Grassley is a long-time opponent of abortion rights and advocate of overturning Roe v. Wade, and Naral gives him a zero rating on pro-choice issues. If Roe were overturned, where does Grassley think he’d find a constitutional “right to privacy”?
And let’s not forget the recent Republican obsession with forcing women to undergo vaginal probes before they can have an abortion.
Not to be outdone, the Indiana State Senate has passed a new law that requires a woman to have two (2) ultrasounds–before and after her “abortion”–even if she is just taking RU 487, or the morning after pill! The bill doesn’t specific intravaginal ultrasounds, but they would, in effect, be required, since most abortions are performed when the embryo or fetus is too small to be detected by a traditional ultrasound.
I’m not sure what Grassley’s position on these ultrasound laws is, but someone should definitely ask him. If forcing a woman to have two transvaginal probes in order to get a pill doesn’t qualify as the government doing something to “your body without your permission,” what does Grassley believe would qualify as a violation of a woman’s privacy? Maybe because the town hall questioner was a man, he was suggesting that only Americans with penises have privacy rights?
As the inimitable Charles Pierce once wrote about Senator Grassley in a different context:
This is also funny because, you see, if there’s one thing that Chuck Grassley is noted for, it is that he is the most spectacular box of rocks, the most bulging bag of hammers, in the history of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. If brains were atom bombs, he couldn’t blow his nose. If his IQ was one point lower, they’d have to water him. As the great Dan Jenkins once put it in another context, if the man had a brain, he’d be out in the yard playing with it.