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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Archive for August 2013

There is No Right Answer on Syria

Chemical weapons are a terrible thing.  I disagree with the assertion that dead is dead.  They are a torturous method of killing innocent civilians.  They cause civilians to die a gruesome and slow death.  Those that survive are permanently disfigured.  With conventional weapons, yes, they leave the person dead, but they tend to be considerably quicker in bringing about that death.

In the modern era of warfare, militaries can effectively protect soldiers against their use.  That leaves them as nothing more than a weapon of civilian murder – a weapon that kills slowly and gruesomely.  A strong moral argument exists that when such weapons are used, the world has a responsibility to take those actions necessary to prevent their further use and punish the perpetrators.  This can include military action.

At the same time, war is war and we should not enter it without serious discussion (the exception being in response to a military attack; think Pearl Harbor and us declaring war on Japan the next day).  What happened with the Iraq war represented a severe failure of this process and we cannot afford a repeat of that hear.  We need to see the evidence put out there.  We need to have the discussion.  We need to enter this with our eyes open.  Remember, even limited strikes put our men and women in uniform in the line of danger and cost us money in a time when we really don’t have the money to spare – especially on another war.

To my fellow Obamab*ts – Snowden/Greenwald bashing is Missing the Point

OK. I’ve asterisked the title so as not to break any rules. And first up, as anyone who knows me

I am the biggest Obamab*t there is

But we seem to be falling out in recent weeks over the issue of the NSA and Snowden revelations. Thanks to my Murdoch investigations here during the Hackgate Scandal (which is still unfolding as you can see from my Daily Beast timeline) I’ve become a big fan of privacy, and antipathetic to corporate blackmail and surveillance.

So, when the extent of digital surveillance became apparent thanks to the Guardian and the Snowden revelations, my concern wasn’t over the Obama administration (most the programmes were established beforehand) nor indeed the character of the government. But one simple thing has always concerned me: the effect of this kind of surveillance on potential government whistleblowers and investigative journalism

One would have thought the chilling effects on whistleblowing and investigative journalism should concern every reporter.

On the vituperation heaped on Greenwald and the Guardian, I urge you to read David Carr in the New York Times

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.

Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?

I couldn’t agree more: as I wrote a few days ago

Since when has the emotional complexion of the source been the main point of the story? The attacks on Greenwald display the same problem. He may be partisan, argumentative and thin-skinned (he blocked me on Twitter a year ago for an innocuous comment) but does that disqualify him from landing a major scoop? Attacking a source or intermediary is just another version of the ad hominem fallacy. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Journalism is about disclosure and transparency, not heroics and personality. It’s the story, stupid.

I’m still a fan of Obama. But you can’t rely on the governance of good people. As Evgeny Morosov has shown us over the failure of the Green Revolution in Iran, these same tools of social networking and communication can  be easily misused by rogue intelligence agencies, and for an future government, they are a secret policeman’s wet dream.

For the historic background I’d urge you to read James Bamford’s excellent piece in the New York Review of Books. As he says…

One man who was prescient enough to see what was coming was Senator Frank Church, the first outsider to peer into the dark recesses of the NSA. In 1975, when the NSA posed merely a fraction of the threat to privacy it poses today with UPSTREAM, PRISM, and thousands of other collection and data-mining programs, Church issued a stark warning:

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…. I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

I’m still an Obamabot. But I also still remember Bush. The issue of massive collusion between state and private corporations over surveillance is, unfortunately, an issue which transcends any particular President.

I hope my fellow Obamabots can take the long view, and not consider this just an attack on this administration. We came together over certain ideas of equality, liberty and justice. Those ends are not served an intelligence system that could quickly be turned to squash civil dissent.  

News and Views: Found on the Internets – Friday, 08/30

A series of tubes filled with enormous amounts of material

How We Got Here: A Timeline Of The Syria Chemical Weapons Saga

While the White House insists in public that no decisions have yet been made, it seems increasingly likely that the U.S. will join in with several of its allies in launching limited punitive strikes against Syria for the use of chemical weapons against civilians. While the wisdom of setting so clear a trigger for action has been questioned since Obama first set chemical weapons use as a so-called “red-line,” the international norm against their use has been growing since the horrors of mustard gas were first observed in World War I.

Read More: From NPR: Striking Syria Still Seems A Question Of When, Not Whether

Read More: British Parliament Closes Door On Syria Intervention

Read More: White House Briefs Congressional Leaders On Syria

Read More: Wesley Clark: Syria vs. Kosovo


Merrill Lynch Set To Pay Largest Racial Discrimination Settlement Ever

Eight years after a group of black financial advisers filed a lawsuit alleging their bosses systematically steered the most profitable business to white employees, Merrill Lynch is preparing to pay the largest racial discrimination settlement ever. […]

Merrill’s specific history aside, the financial world as a whole is an inhospitable place for women and minorities. Both groups remain hugely underrepresented in management positions within the industry, with minorities holding just one in ten management positions. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law included new requirements for both racial and gender diversity at private financial firms and government regulatory offices.


President To Issue New Executive Orders On Guns

The White House says President Obama will issue two new executive orders on guns – one to curb the import of military surplus weapons and another that closes a loophole allowing some felons to get around background checks.[…]

According to the statement, “felons, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from having guns” can skirt background checks by registering the weapon as a trust or corporation.

“The proposed rule requires individuals associated with trusts or corporations that acquire these types of weapons to undergo background checks, just as these individuals would if the weapons were registered to them individually,” the statement says.

Read More: Biden Hints At 2014 Push To Elect Gun Control Advocates To Congress

Read More: Why It’s Easier To Buy An Assault Weapon Than To Vote, In One Graphic


Republicans in the news …

Maine Town Official Visited By Secret Service For Racially Charged Obama Post

David Marsters, a retired Massachusetts police officer and a candidate for selectman in Sabattus, Maine, posted a photo of Obama along with a link to a story about a Republican push to impeach the president at 8:17 p.m. Friday, writing “Shoot the N***er” above it, according to the newspaper.

He said he told the Secret Service agents who questioned him that he didn’t intend to threaten the president.

Marsters told the Press Herald in a telephone interview that his post was taken out of context.


How The Uber-Conservative John Cornyn Ticked Off The Tea Party

On paper, the Republican minority whip is an unusual target for Tea Party guns. Cornyn has been one of the most conservative members of the Senate since he was first elected to the chamber in 2002. National Journal ranks Cornyn the second most conservative member of the Senate. He has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, has won multiple awards from the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, has a 0 percent rating from the pro-choice NARAL and a 100 percent rating from the National Right To Life Committee.

That’s not good enough for some Tea Partiers now.

Tea Party groups’ ire centers on Cornyn’s decision in late July to remove his signature from a letter by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) expressing strong support to defund Obamacare in any debt limit or government funding bill. Cornyn was one of a number of senators who had originally signed the letter a few days before he changed his mind and removed his signature.


Heritage’s Fun With ‘Defund Obamacare’ Polling Numbers

The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has been a leader in the Defund Obamacare movement, appeared to go through a small crisis in the last 24 hours over just what percentage of Americans support their cause.

Wednesday morning, Heritage debuted a poster asking if “you” were a part of the 57 percent of Americans who support defunding Obamacare. That same morning, the Kaiser Family Foundation, one of the most respected health policy think tanks, released a monthly tracking poll that found the exact opposite: 57 percent of Americans opposed defunding the health care reform law.

Facts, Schmacts! We don’t need no stinkin’ facts!!!


More Lousy Poll Numbers For Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett

Only 20 percent said Corbett deserves re-election, down from 25 percent in the May poll. The latest poll showed 69 percent of Pennsylvania voters believe it’s time for a change.

In fact, Corbett is struggling to win support from his own party, with only 38 percent of Pennsylvania Republicans saying he deserves a second term. Only 30 percent of in-state Republicans rate his performance as “excellent” or “good.”


Quick Takes …

OOPS: Senator Who Advocates Arming Teachers Accidentally Shoots Teacher With Rubber Bullet

The experience gave [Arkansas Sen. Jeremy] Hutchinson “some pause” but failed to shake his confidence in the plan.

NFL, Retirees Reach $765M Settlement On Concussions Suits

The NFL and more than 4,500 retired players have reached an agreement calling for the league to contribute $765 million to a fund that will pay “medical and other benefits, as well as compensation” to those who suffered concussions and related injuries during their careers.

Justice Department Won’t Challenge State Marijuana Laws, Major Shift In Law Enforcement Policy

U.S. Government Will Recognize Same-Sex Couples For Tax Purposes

Judge Apologizes For Saying 14-Year-Old Rape Victim Was Just As In Control As Rapist Teacher

Study Finds Obamacare Won’t Hike Workers’ Premiums: ‘The Rate-Shock Concerns Were Overblown’

Poll: McAuliffe Leads Unpopular Cuccinelli By 7


The Daily F Bomb, Friday 8/30/13


What were you into before it was cool? Is it still cool?

Is your local weather doing what it should be doing this time of year?

Have you ever read any classic horror, such as Frankenstein or Dracula?

Do you find it easier to remember things that just happened, or things that happened long ago? Quick, what day is it?

I haven’t asked this lately – what song is going through your head right now (or if none, the most recent)?

The Twitter Emitter

Tearing Ourselves Down

As we all wrestle with the issues surrounding Syria we raise the theories of conspiracy to new heights. Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ conspiracy theory regarding Syria is just the latest to float past my eyes, cloyingly calling to the fears of those on the political left. Those on the left mock Tea Partiers and others who argue “Isn’t it OK to ask the question?” about evolution, climate change, Obama’s birth certificate and other foolish issues. Simultaneously, many on the left support a different set of conspiracy theories which align with issues which are similarly dear to their own hearts and interests.

It is critical to have clear and conscious discussion supporting our decisions on any important issue. Our repeated cultural fascination with theories of conspiracy driving local, national and global events clouds any effort to attain such clarity.

This tendency to slip off the slope of concern into the pits of conspiracy theories is an indication of our loss of faith in our fellow human. It speaks to our failure to contain our fears, to take the small risks which lead to the tight bonds of social cohesion. It is itself the largest threat we face.

We do not need the conspiracies we theorize bring us to our knees. Through our eagerness to fear our neighbor we are tearing ourselves down.

The Daily F Bomb, Thursday 8/29/13


Of all the music styles associated with a particular city (Detroit, Memphis, Philly, Seattle, San Francisco, etc.) which is your favorite?

Are you pro or anti nuclear power? Why?

Do you try to avoid cooking or eating with salt? Is it easy?

When did you first actually feel like an adult? Do you recall what triggered that feeling?

The Twitter Emitter