Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when
we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED)the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.
I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD. And I am highly organized.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
–Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
So today, in honor of the Preakness at Pimlico, we have a special video selection That I’ll discuss more thoroughly below the fold.
While it’s called ‘The Race for the Black-Eyed Susans’ they’re never ever used because they don’t bloom until June or July (of course Climate Change will change all that). What they are really is Viking Poms, a chrysanthemum relative. They do still paint the Jockey’s colors on the weather vane and award the Woodlawn Vase, reputedly the most valuable trophy in sports (over $4 Million).
No they don’t get to keep it, they get a half size replica while the original remains under guard at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
This Day in History
Now first of all I’m not going to mention it directly because it’s only a matter of time. It’s a very good print and I strongly and urgently suggest you download and install this program which I unequivocally endorse as being stable, reliable, and free.
Are you ready?
Open the program, hit the YouTube button on the video below, go to the tab or window that starts playing, hit the Share button, copy the code to your clipboard, go to the program, hit the paste button, click on the downward pointing arrow after the video title is displayed.
Oh, well, uh, to begin with I took four years at Vassar.
Vassar? But that’s a girls’ college.
I found that out the third year. I’d have been there yet, but I went out for the swimming team.
I haven’t seen anything like this in years. The last time I saw a head like that was in a bottle of formaldehyde.
Told you he was sick.
That’s all pure desecration along there. He’s got about a 15% metabolism, with an overactive thyroid and a glandular affectation of about 3%.
With a 1% mentality. He’s what we designate as the crummy moronic type. All in all, this is the most gruesome looking piece of blubber I’ve ever peered at.
Hey doc. Hey doc!
You gotta the looking glass turned around, you’re looking at yourself.
Since most of my news today fals into several broad categories and there is a lot of it, I’m going to organize it somewhat differently.
To police Wall Street, go after the little guys
By Robert Boxwell, Reuters
May 16, 2014
Steinberg is one of two former SAC employees whom federal prosecutors believe have firsthand knowledge of insider trading by SAC’s founder, Steven Cohen. Cohen has not been charged with any crime.
Steinberg’s conviction – like scores of others in the past several years – is even more valuable. Conventional wisdom holds that landing the big fish in high-profile white collar cases is the best deterrent against other people breaking the same laws. Yet for would-be criminals, the arrest of a colleague or a peer at another fund has a more personal, harrowing effect than the takedown of a less-relatable outlier like Cohen.
As for Cohen, SAC Capital pleaded guilty to five criminal charges in November and agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine. It also paid $616 million in a civil forfeiture related to Martoma’s trades.
It’s unlikely that this denouement will satisfy many observers, especially in light of the evidence presented in Steinberg’s and Martoma’s cases. The two cases had many of the elements that secured the conviction of Rajat Gupta – cooperating witnesses, emails and IMs, phone records, trading records – but apparently not all. Prosecutors were wise not to bring a case against Cohen that they couldn’t win. It doesn’t diminish the very real deterrence against illegal insider trading of the scores of cases they have won.
Points of No Return
Paul Krugman, The New York Times
MAY 15, 2014
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of doctrines – how support for a false dogma can become politically mandatory, and how overwhelming contrary evidence only makes such dogmas stronger and more extreme. For the most part, I’ve been focusing on economic issues, but the same story applies with even greater force to climate.
To see how it works, consider a topic I know well: the recent history of inflation scares.
More than five years have passed since many conservatives started warning that the Federal Reserve, by taking action to contain the financial crisis and boost the economy, was setting the stage for runaway inflation. And, to be fair, that wasn’t a crazy position to take in 2009; I could have told you it was wrong (and, in fact, I did), but you could see where it was coming from.
Over time, however, as the promised inflation kept failing to arrive, there should have come a point when the inflationistas conceded their error and moved on.
Why the bad behavior? Nobody likes admitting to mistakes, and all of us – even those of us who try not to – sometimes engage in motivated reasoning, selectively citing facts to support our preconceptions.
But hard as it is to admit one’s own errors, it’s much harder to admit that your entire political movement got it badly wrong. Inflation phobia has always been closely bound up with right-wing politics; to admit that this phobia was misguided would have meant conceding that one whole side of the political divide was fundamentally off base about how the economy works. So most of the inflationistas have responded to the failure of their prediction by becoming more, not less, extreme in their dogma, which will make it even harder for them ever to admit that they, and the political movement they serve, have been wrong all along.
The same kind of thing is clearly happening on the issue of global warming. There are, obviously, some fundamental factors underlying G.O.P. climate skepticism: The influence of powerful vested interests (including, though by no means limited to, the Koch brothers), plus the party’s hostility to any argument for government intervention. But there is clearly also some kind of cumulative process at work. As the evidence for a changing climate keeps accumulating, the Republican Party’s commitment to denial just gets stronger.
It’s hard to see what could reverse this growing hostility to inconvenient science. As I said, the process of intellectual devolution seems to have reached a point of no return. And that scares me more than the news about that ice sheet.
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter says Qatar World Cup in summer a ‘mistake’
by Philip J. Victor, Al Jazeera
May 16, 2014 4:56PM ET
The central issue surrounds the blazing weather in the Gulf country during the summer months, when average high temperatures consistently rise above 106 F. Health and safety concerns for players and fans are at issue in addition to environmental concerns about Qatar’s ambitious stadium-cooling plans, which are said to involve solar-panel technology.
“The Qatar technical report indicated clearly that it is too hot in summer, but the executive committee with quite a big majority decided all the same that the tournament would be in Qatar,” Blatter said in the interview, referring to a FIFA assessment before the event was awarded.
(M)oving the dates further back could complicate matters for some European soccer leagues. A World Cup in November and December would force changes in the schedule of domestic leagues and the pan-European Champions League, in which the majority of the world’s top players play professional soccer.
“I think the issue is, there are relatively a small number of leagues for which this matters in a big way. Probably the most significant is the Premier League in England,” Szymanski said.
He referred to the contentious issue as “a matter of politics,” saying of Blatter: “He probably needs to make concessions and promises to their particular interests, but that’s not impossible to imagine,” referring to leagues whose schedules would be affected by a move.
“My guess is that in the end, he probably gets his way even if there be some big standouts objecting to this,” he said.
Szymanski explained that Blatter may be able to organize a majority of the smaller federations in Africa and Asia to get behind the idea of moving the World Cup dates – a move he said would be subject to approval by a vote of federations – by “promising them a disproportionate share of the benefits that arrive from the revenues that FIFA generates.”
Nearly 1 in 4 bee colonies died this winter, survey says
May 16, 2014 12:55PM ET
“It’s better news than it could have been,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp, a University of Maryland entomology professor who led the survey. “It’s not good news.”
David Mendes, a beekeeper in North Fort Myers, Florida, and a past president of the American Beekeeping Federation, says the official numbers likely underestimate the loss. About 30 percent of his bees died, he said. And earlier this year there was a massive die-off in the California almond fields, where “probably 100,000 hives got nailed,” he added.
Pettis and van Engelsdorp said now the problem seems to be a combination of parasitic varroa mites, a relatively new class of pesticides and poor nutrition because there’s a lack of diversity in crops where they get their pollen.
Honeybees pollinate more than 90 of the world’s flowering crops, including apples, nuts, broccoli, squash, citrus fruit, berries and melons.
The resegregation of America’s schools
by Daniel Denvir, Al Jazeera
May 16, 2014 2:30AM ET
The Supreme Court ruled 60 years ago this May 17 in Brown v. Board of Education that “segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation,” is unconstitutional.
The ruling abolished the explicitly mandated segregation made infamous in the Deep South. But political reaction and larger structural shifts, such as white suburbanization, quickly overwhelmed tentative progress. Today, segregation – both racial and economic – remains the core organizational feature of American public education. In 1980, the typical black student attended a school where 36 percent of students were white. Today, the average black student attends a school where only 29 percent are. Many black and Latino students attend schools where nearly every other student is nonwhite – including in supposed liberal bastions such as New York and Chicago.
Indeed, New York state’s public schools are the most segregated in the nation, according to a March report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. In New York City, 19 of 32 community school districts are less than 10 percent white. That includes all of the Bronx, two-thirds of Brooklyn and half of Manhattan.
John Oliver on His Hilarious, NSFW, and Totally Fact-Checked HBO Show
By Asawin Suebsaeng, Mother Jones
Fri May 16, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Oliver, who spent nearly eight years at The Daily Show and has a solid background in political satire, is off to a good start. His weekly series-which offers biting commentary on the past week’s biggest news stories, both national and international-is barely into its inaugural season, and it seems to be hitting the right notes. Matt Wilstein at Mediaite called the show, “the Al Jazeera America of late night” – a label Oliver finds flattering, but far too lofty.
Regardless of Oliver’s insistence that Last Week Tonight is not in any respect a journalistic enterprise (“No!” as he put it. “In no respect, in no respect, whatsoever”), he and his team certainly observe some of the same standards that a newsroom does; in some cases, even higher standards. In preparing for upcoming episodes, Oliver & Co. will often reach out to journalists or experts in a certain field for more information and perspective. For instance, prior to the Keith Alexander interview, they got in touch with Shane Harris, who profiled Alexander for Foreign Policy late last year. Furthermore, their staff includes Charles Wilson, an alumnus of the New York Times and The New Yorker, who now serves as the show’s “journalistic fact-checker,” in Oliver’s words.
“You can’t build a joke on sand, because otherwise then the joke doesn’t work and…everything falls apart,” Oliver says. “So you gotta make sure, even if it’s sometimes incredibly frustrating, if you get excited about a joke angle, and then your fact-checker says, ‘Yeah, you can’t say that. That’s not right.’ And it’s a tough job. I remember when I was talking to Charles before he joined the show, I was just saying, ‘It is the thankless position to have to walk into a room that has kind of a joyful momentum behind it…and be the one saying, ‘Yeah, you can’t do any of that. It’s not true.'”
Gallup: Congressional leaders often viewed negatively
By David Lightman, McClatchy
May 15, 2014
A Gallup poll released Thursday found “views of each of the four leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate continue to be more negative than positive.”
“Americans’ views of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who served as speaker from 2007 to 2011, remained mostly positive through 2008,” Gallup said. “She also enjoyed a surge in positivity in early 2007 when she became speaker. Since 2009, however, her unfavorable ratings have consistently overshadowed her favorable ratings by at least 12 points.”
In the Senate, Reid has not received a net positive score since 2007. And since Gallup first began asking about McConnell four years ago, he has yet to have a net positive rating.
GOP favorability unusually low, Democrats only somewhat better
By David Lightman, McClatchy
May 16, 2014
People don’t particularly like either political party, but they like Democrats at little more.
Democrats, though, shouldn’t get too confident. “The Democrats currently lead their Republican rivals in overall favorable ratings, but even if they are able to maintain this position throughout the 2014 midterm election cycle, it hardly augurs success for the party,” according to a Gallup analysis. “There have been several instances in the eight elections from 1996-2012 (the 1998 midterm contest is excluded) in which the more popular party has failed to dominate the November elections.”
Jane Kleeb vs. the Keystone Pipeline
By SAUL ELBEIN, The New York Times
MAY 16, 2014
TransCanada, the $48 billion Canadian company that owns the Keystone, has repeatedly said the XL will be “the safest pipeline ever built on U.S. soil,” a technological marvel with automatic shut-off valves and satellite monitoring. The exact composition of what will flow through the pipeline is not publicly available, but it will include bitumen – a thick, semisolid petroleum product – blended with natural gas that has been pressurized to become a liquid. If the line is approved, it could carry 830,000 barrels a day of this “diluted bitumen” across Nebraska, over 275 miles and through 515 private properties. No one knows exactly what a leak would do, but evidence from past malfunctions suggests catastrophe. In 2010, a spill from Enbridge’s Line 6B dropped 840,000 gallons of bitumen to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Four years and more than a billion dollars later, the cleanup continues. Last spring, Exxon’s Pegasus line burst near a residential area of Mayflower, Ark., spreading 210,000 gallons of bitumen through neighborhood streets, causing evacuations and leaving residents complaining of respiratory problems, nausea and headaches.
Among the farmers in the York Community Center was a petite, progressive organizer with close-cropped hair named Jane Kleeb (pronounced Klehb). She was the reason they were there. The fight over the Keystone XL has largely been portrayed as one about climate change, in which environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation and 350.org are pitted against the fossil-fuel industry. But what has kept the pipeline out of the ground so far, more than anything, has been Kleeb’s ability to convince mostly conservative farmers and ranchers that they are the ones being asked to bear all the risk of Canada’s energy expansion. If something goes wrong, she says, they’re the ones who are going to suffer. Kleeb didn’t need to persuade all of the people in the room to be angry – many of the state’s landowners are plenty wary of what they see as the pipeline’s risks – but she has organized them to take on TransCanada and more or less their state’s entire political power structure. Days earlier, thanks to her efforts, a state district court had thrown the construction into limbo.
Pipelines carrying oil, unlike those for natural gas, are mostly regulated by the states. In all but Colorado, pipelines generally get the right of eminent domain – but most states can restrict that right, determining whether pipelines are in the public interest and what routes they can take. In 13 states, including Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma (and, until recently, Nebraska), there is no such approval process. If a company wants the land but the owner doesn’t want to make a deal, it can deposit its estimated fair value with a court and start building. If a landowner wants to challenge the company, he has to square off in court against a multibillion-dollar corporation.
John Stoody, a spokesman with the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, told me that pipeline companies needed strong eminent-domain laws so they could build vital infrastructure and “prevent a single person from stopping a project that will benefit the greater public good.” This leaves landowners with no bargaining power when the companies come calling for their land. “Pipeline companies hold all the cards,” says Jeremy Hopkins, a Virginia attorney who has represented hundreds of landowners in eminent-domain cases. “The company decides where they’re going to put the pipeline, the rights they’re going to take. No ordinary buyer has that kind of power.”
Whatever its legal rights, TransCanada badly misread popular sentiment in Nebraska. The state is Republican but deeply independent; it was the home of William Jennings Bryan and the late-1800s populist movement. Rather than rallying behind the idea of American independence from Middle Eastern oil, Nebraskans saw a foreign company coming into their state and asserting rights to land that had been in their families for generations. “The attitude when doing business here is, Treat me fairly, tell me the truth, I’ll work with you,” said David Domina, an Omaha lawyer who represents hundreds of farmers and ranchers in negotiations with TransCanada. Nebraska’s public utilities would take years to plan a new telephone or power project, and they would work hard to convince farmers that a project was in the public interest. But TransCanada came in with “corporate weaponry blazing,” Domina said. He claimed that agents lied to his clients about whether their neighbors had signed easement agreements and about how little money they would get if they didn’t. TransCanada, through a spokesman, Shawn Howard, denied those accusations. The company stressed that it does not provide information to one landowner about another’s private property and pointed out that all registered easements are publicly available.
When the agents contacted Randy Thompson about his family’s land in Merrick County, Thompson was confused at first, and then angry. “They came out here with this great sense of entitlement,” Thompson told me, “and we were just supposed to get out of the road. They said all the neighbors had signed, and if we were smart, we’d sign now – or we’d get a lot less money. These guys just treat you like bugs they can squash.”
Faulty valve eyed in LA spill that created ‘lake’ of crude oil
by Gregg Levine, Al Jazeera
May 16 11:11 AM
A Thursday morning oil spill in the Los Angeles town of Atwater Village is believed to have been caused by valve failure, according to Plains All American Pipeline, the Texas-based company that owns the pumping station where the leak occurred.
The company, a division of Plains Pipeline LP, now estimates the leak at 450 barrels, or roughly 18,900 gallons. That is down from early estimates of the spill, but nearly double the amount reported to have been reclaimed by cleanup crews.
The breach in the pipeline caused a geyser of oil to shoot 40 feet in the air, soaking nearby buildings and creating a pool of crude 40-feet wide and knee-deep in some places, covering about one-half square mile. It took 45 minutes to remotely shut off the flow, according to Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Jamie Moore.
Firefighters prevented the oil from spreading further by building a 2 ½-foot sand berm around the spill, creating what witnesses described as a “lake” of thick, black crude. Responders vacuumed the oil from that pool into tanker trucks, mopping up what remained with a soap solution and disposable diapers.
Pipeline company in LA oil spill has history of violations
by Gregg Levine, Al Jazeera
May 16 6:42 PM
Plains All American Pipeline, the owners of the 130-mile oil conduit that ruptured early Thursday, spilling an estimated 19,000 gallons of crude onto the streets of Atwater Village in Los Angeles, had a history of safety and environmental violations, and ties to previous oil transport accidents.
The leak, which lasted about 45 minutes before the pipeline was remotely shut down, covered a half-mile area with crude oil, and forced the evacuation of nearby buildings. Los Angeles Fire Department responders corralled the oil with sand dikes and vacuumed it into tanker trucks before attacking what was left with a soap solution and what are now being called diaper-like sponges (previous reports said that actual baby diapers were initially used).
Plains All American, a division of Plains Pipeline LP, had been cited for violations of the Clean Water Act in relation to 10 oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. A 2010 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency required Plains to spend approximately $41 million to upgrade 10,420 miles of crude oil pipeline operated in the United States, and pay $3.2 million in civil penalties.
Plains’ Canadian division is responsible for three major pipeline accidents in Alberta, including a 28,000-barrel spill in 2011 – called the largest in the area three decades – that polluted wetlands and the Peace River.
Also of note, last month’s derailment of a train near Lynchburg, Virginia – which resulted in a massive explosion and fire, and caused three tanker cars to fall into the James River, spilling their cargo of crude oil – was headed to a nearby storage depot operated by Plains All American.
Pa. Dems fight to prove they can milk fracking for all it’s worth
by Peter Moskowitz, Al Jazeera
May 16, 2014 7:00AM ET
On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will vote for which of four Democratic candidates they want to see take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett come November. The primary has become a fight for the votes of people like Kisberg.
In a state where hydraulic fracturing has created thousands of jobs and filled the treasury’s coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars, the question of whether fracking is good or bad isn’t even being considered by any of the election’s viable candidates. Instead, the election has become a referendum on whether the process can be made safer and more financially rewarding for the average Pennsylvanian.
The candidates are hoping to capitalize on Corbett’s low approval ratings, which are partially due to his failure to extract more money for the state from fracking. He is in danger of being the first incumbent governor to lose a re-election bid since 1968, when the state began allowing governors to run for two terms.
Despite the fracking boom, the state’s next fiscal year looks bleak, with a more than $1 billion budget deficit predicted.
Democrats are now trying to use those budget issues to push their hydraulic fracturing agenda, promising to turn Pennsylvania’s natural resources into a goldmine for the state.
GM Ignition Failure
A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.
Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?
You wouldn’t believe.
Which car company do you work for?
A major one.
GM fined $35 million for failure to report ignition switch defect
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy
May 16, 2014
In what it called the single highest civil penalty resulting from an automobile recall, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday fined General Motors $35 million for the company’s failure to report a safety defect.
The defective ignition switch in the 2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt is blamed for 13 fatalities. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, announcing the penalty, said that GM knew about the defect as early as 2009 but failed to report it.
“They told no one,” he said. “Crashes happened, and people died.”
David Friedman, the highway agency’s acting administrator, said that GM executives, engineers and lawyers knew about the defect but broke the law by not reporting it.
GM fined $35m over recall scandal in deal with Department of Transportation
Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
Friday 16 May 2014 10.30 EDT
The US Department of Transportation imposed the record civil penalty for the automaker’s “failure to report a safety defect in the vehicle to the federal government in a timely manner.”
The fine comes amid a separate criminal investigation by the Justice Department into GM’s failure to address its deadly safety problems.
Last month Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, was grilled by Congress over the recalls. Congressional investigators have accused the company of neglecting to warn customers for more than 10 years about faulty ignition switches capable of disabling airbags in Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion vehicles.
At the hearing Barra apologized for the deaths but avoided questions about whether GM would take “responsibility” for the deaths. GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2008 and is technically a new company, and therefore not liable for lawsuits related to deaths before that time.
Yup, during a good part of this time GM was owned by…
The Obama Administration.
G.M. Is Fined Over Safety and Called a Lawbreaker
By MATTHEW L. WALD and DANIELLE IVORY, The New York Times
MAY 16, 2014
The investigation found “deeply disturbing” evidence over how G.M. treated safety concerns, said David Friedman, who works under Mr. Foxx as the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Mr. Friedman cited an internal presentation from 2008 that was used to train employees to obscure some problems.
Workers writing reports were encouraged to avoid using certain words and phrases with negative overtones, including “apocalyptic,” “dangerous,” “death trap, “potentially disfiguring,” “rolling sarcophagus,” and “Corvair-like,” as well as more benign phrases like “safety” and “safety related.”
Red flags appeared over and over in the months that followed, but G.M. did not tell the government and initiate a recall until February of this year, which grew to include 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars.
“Their process was broken, and they need to fix it,” Mr. Friedman said.
But when asked how the new measures would strengthen regulators’ ability to detect safety defects on their own, without reliance on the car companies, Mr. Foxx and Mr. Friedman did not reply.
Instead, Mr. Foxx and Mr. Friedman stressed that the threat of bigger civil penalties, if Congress raises the maximum fine, would change corporate behavior.
Yeah, these are working.
Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes
Stuart Clark, The Guardian
Thursday 15 May 2014 12.57 EDT
Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.
The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.
Designed to be expendable, the RD-180s are not recovered and refurbished after use, so a constant supply is needed to keep up with the US launch manifest.
Although Nasa relies on the Atlas V to launch some of its deep space probes, such as the Curiosity rover currently operating on Mars, most are used to put AmericanUS spy satellites and other classified payloads into space.
Under the new restrictions, it is only rockets for military rather than civilian launches that would be disallowed. But in practice it will make it difficult for the US to import any of the engines because it will hard to prove the hardware is not destined for a military programme.
U.S.-Russia tension could affect space station, satellites
By Ralph Vartabedian, W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
May 16, 2014, 6:00 PM
After Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin this week said his nation might no longer allow U.S. astronauts access to its launch vehicles and may use the International Space Station without American participation, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee pressed NASA for answers about the how the U.S. could respond.
The $100-billion orbital outpost, often cited as the most expensive machine ever built, has a series of modules and power systems, some Russian, some American and others from a range of international partners. The U.S. hardware produces most of the station’s electricity, but the Russian propulsion system helps keep the station in orbit.
Now, that combination of hardware could cause a major headache. Under legal agreements, the U.S. has an upper hand in controlling the space station, but Rogozin said his nation could operate its modules independently of the United States.
NASA ultimately wants private companies to take astronauts to the station by 2017, but that hardware is still in development.
Ah, outsourcing and privatization. It’s so efficient.
No One Is Impressed By Resignation Of Top VA Official Who Was Already Scheduled To Retire
Paul Szoldra, Business Insider
May 16, 2014, 7:21 PM
“We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat; we need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA,” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement to Business Insider. “Without real action from the VA, this token resignation just weeks before it was already scheduled to happen does nothing to rebuild faith in VA health care.”
“Characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement to Stripes. “The VA has resorted to what it does best: splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress. After yesterday’s out-of-touch performance from Sec. Shinseki, I was disappointed. Today, I am even more disillusioned.”
“Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won’t make that much of a difference,” Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said in a statement. “Meanwhile, Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary Hickey remain on the job. They are both part of VA’s leadership problem, and we want them to resign as soon as possible. This isn’t personal. VA needs a fundamental shift in leadership if it is to defeat its systemic lack of accountability.”
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki needs to go
Dana Milbank, Washington Post
Published: May 16
Reports have documented the deaths of about 40 veterans in Phoenix who were waiting for VA appointments – the latest evidence of widespread bookkeeping tricks used at the agency to make it appear as though veterans were not waiting as long for care as they really were. The abuses have been documented over several years by whistleblowers and leaked memorandums, and confirmed by a host of government investigators.
That’s bad enough. Worse was Shinseki’s response when he finally appeared before a congressional committee Thursday to answer questions about the scandal. He refused to acknowledge any systemic problem and declined to commit to do much of anything, insisting on waiting for the results of yet another investigation.
Shinseki has declined to ask the Justice Department to investigate, even though he has acknowledged that the alleged activity would be illegal. The most significant action so far: The White House dispatched a deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to help Shinseki respond to the allegations. (Shinseki told the Senate panel he served with Nabors’s father and knows his parents well.) Another indication of the attitude of Shinseki’s team: Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the panel’s top Republican, disclosed at the hearing that a top Shinseki lieutenant, in a recent conference call with other VA officials, declared that the medical director of the Phoenix office had “done nothing wrong” and that the decision to put her on leave was “political.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) reminded Shinseki that “we have more than allegations at this point. We have evidence, solid evidence, of wrongdoing within the VA system, and it is more than an isolated instance of wrongdoing – it’s a pattern and practice.”
Jill Abramson And The Pervasive Risks Of Demanding Equal Pay
By Bryce Covert, Think Progress
May 16, 2014 at 8:11 am
Ken Auletta at the New Yorker reported that the incident may have been set off by the fact that Abramson found out she was being paid less than men around her and asked top management about the disparities. According to his anonymous sources, she found out that not only was she was getting less in pay and benefits than Bill Keller, previous executive editor of the paper, in two different jobs where she replaced him, but that she made less than a man who reported to her when she was managing editor. While this may not have been the direct cause of her dismissal, it seems that when she had her lawyer look into the disparities top management thought she was “pushy” and it set off other tensions in the newsroom. Other reports are that many who worked with her thought she was “brusque to the point of rudeness.”
Many women who reach the top are still paid less than their male peers. The highest paid female executives at S&P 500 companies still make 18 percent less than the men in these roles, on average. For example, Heather Bresch, CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan, makes about a third less than average CEO pay in her sector, and Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison makes about a quarter less.
Other high-profile female executives have found out that they’re making less than the men around them this year. This year, Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, will make less than half of what her outgoing male predecessor made – $2.8 million compared to $7.3 million – and less than what he will be paid as a senior advisor after he’s gone. This is despite her 30 plus years of experience at the company and the fact that the man before her had no car industry experience. The company has noted that her long-term compensation represents a 60 percent increase over his, but she will only see that money if she stays with the company for a certain period of time.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, experienced the other half of what Abramson may have gone through: being paid less than a man who reports to you. She made $62 million over the same period that the male COO of the company, who worked under her, made $96 million. Worse, he was fired in January. Part of his pay total is a severance package that got a bump from the company’s stock price when he left, and as with Barra, Mayer stands to see more long-term compensation. But the differences are still stark.
Jill Abramson’s ouster shows women that we still must be more than good
Emily Bell, The Guardian
Friday 16 May 2014 06.53 EDT
She broke the clubhouse rules. She never became that mythical female boss who is assertive but not aggressive, nurturing but not mothering, not so strong that it bothers the men, but never weak like a woman.
In response to two female editors noting for Sulzberger that his disrespectful dismissal wouldn’t go over well in the newsroom, he reportedly explained that women, like men, occasionally get fired. Likely no one will write a profile in which his work as the publisher of the New York Times is judged based on his lack of empathy or his blissful ignorance of the emotional impact of his actions. But the first woman executive editor is not just any editor, and this was not just any firing. No one will castigate him for being insufficiently warm and friendly, because he isn’t expected to be. That’s not his job.
Assessing what counts as a “good job” for a newspaper editor is normally straightforward. You must publish good journalism, break stories and make something the commercial department can sell. In a breathtakingly short two and a half years, Abramson has seen both the journalism and the revenues at the New York Times rise to levels that would have been fanciful to predict when she took the role.
The New York Times May Have Broken Civil Rights Laws By Firing Jill Abramson
By Ian Millhiser, Think Progress
May 14, 2014 at 10:24 pm
(W)e do not yet know the full story of why Abramson was let go. If she was, in fact, fired because she complained about gender discrimination in pay, however, then the Times may have violated federal civil rights law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not simply ban employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” it also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about alleged discrimination.
This protection against retaliation is fairly broad. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains, “a]n employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise ‘retaliate’ against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or [otherwise opposing discrimination.” Moreover, one way that an employee can oppose discrimination, according to the EEOC, is by “[c]omplaining to anyone about alleged discrimination against oneself or others.” So if Abramson was fired because she complained about allegedly being paid less than her predecessor, that is illegal retaliation. Indeed, it is illegal retaliation even if her complaints were inaccurate – that is, if she was actually not underpaid relative to Keller.
Editing While Female
By SUSAN B. GLASSER, Politico
May 16, 2014
My own view is that women should not be immune from criticism because they are women-nor should they be subjected to it just because of who they are.
A few days after sending the issue to the printers, I received an email from a media reporter, informing me that he was reporting a story on what he called my “alleged management style.” It went on to elaborate: “The critique on you seems to be that while you are obviously a very accomplished journalist with a deep well of knowledge and smart ideas about stories, your managerial/editorial ‘temperament’ strikes some people as difficult to work with.” It is the kind of email that every woman who leads an organization, no matter how new, no matter how small, dreads, and for me it had all the power of a traumatic flashback. I sent no response because I did not know how to answer him. It was still easier to say nothing, to avoid the fear of being judged all over again, and I was relieved when no article appeared. I figured that the reporter had decided that, terrible harpy or no, whatever trials and tribulations we’ve had in launching Politico Magazine, our journalism prizes won and two editors leaving for new jobs elsewhere, were probably just not that interesting.
But what I’m struck by is the depressing circularity of the whole conversation. You don’t have to pronounce judgment on the merits of Abramson’s tenure to be dismayed by the awful sameness of the charges that are hurled by those anonymous newsroom sources. The women are always labeled smart but difficult, unapproachable and intimidating. It is always, of course, mind you, not a question of their journalistic merits but of their suitability, their personality. And eventually of course their publishers or boards give in to the narrative too. Maybe there were serious policy disagreements, fights about how to handle change or even plain old-fashioned power struggles. But that is never what’s cited as the official rationale when the ax falls on these women. And why should it be? There is already a narrative out there, a convenient excuse. It’s about “management style” or “communication.”
Love Jill Abramson or hate her, do you really believe that all of these women were unsuited for their jobs and temperamentally incompatible with the positions they had worked so hard to earn, after having beaten out male competitors in every case, and in environments where few if any other women flourished? Is it really possible that women editors, a rare species to begin with, can have a failure rate so close to 100 percent?
Greenwald: NYT’s new editor ‘subservient to national security state’
by Gregg Levine, Al Jazeera
May 16 4:56 PM
Baquet was implicated as a protector of the intelligence community in 2007 by NSA whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein had documentary and eye-witness evidence of “splitters” built into AT&T switching centersdesigned to copy domestic and international internet traffic, and forward it to the NSA. Klein initially took his story to an L.A. Times reporter, and was told it would be front-page material. After two months, however, Klein was told the story had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden.
The decision was made by the L.A. Times editor at the time, Dean Baquet.
When Klein told this part of his narrative on Nightline in 2007, Baquet confirmed he met with Negroponte and Hayden, but said it was his inability to comprehend the story inside Klein’s technical documents that moved him to pull the plug.
Klein then took his information to the New York Times, which published a detailed and fully understandable digest of the revelations in April 2006.
Biggest NSA leaks are yet to come, Glenn Greenwald says in interview
Al Jazeera America News
May 14, 2014
“I think if you’re going to do journalism and the kind of journalism you want to do is adversarial journalism against those in power, then you have to expect that you’re going to alienate and anger lots of people. It will be controversial. If you’re not prepared for that, you probably shouldn’t go into journalism,” he said.
The NSA revelations touched off a heated debate in the U.S. about privacy, security and whether the U.S. government was overstepping its bounds in sacrificing the former in favor of the latter. Greenwald also presented his views on government surveillance and individual companies collecting information such as emails or Web searches, stressing that there was a “huge fundamental difference.”
Greenwald said that the main difference is that the government “can put you into prison,” “can take your property” and can even “kill you.” He said this is why “the Bill of Rights and the Constitution limits what the government can do, because we’ve always looked at government and state power as particularly and uniquely threatening.”
Snowden fallout still echoes across cyber industry
By Ros Krasny, Reuters
Fri May 16, 2014 4:01pm EDT
Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, lauded the spotlight that Snowden’s disclosures shone.
“It’s great to have the issues that I care about on the front page of the newspaper. But I think it’s sad that it took a whistleblower … Democracy shouldn’t depend upon a 29-year-old risking his life,” Soghoian said.
The ACLU has helped to coordinate Snowden’s legal defense against espionage charges.
A hero to some, Snowden last month was among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” and in January was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by two Norwegian politicians, who cited “a more stable and peaceful world order” in his wake.
That does not impress Admiral Mike Rogers, NSA director, who in April inherited an agency still feeling the chill from Snowden’s leaks about its secret operations.
“Mr. Snowden stole from the United States government and national security a large amount of very classified information, a small portion of which is germane to his apparent central argument regarding NSA and privacy issues,” Rogers said.
American journalism needs more Edward Snowdens
David Sirota, Salon
Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:27 PM
When I went into journalism, one of the first things I was told as a freshman is that journalism is different from stenography. It is supposed to be – or at least has been – about using rights granted under the First Amendment to be a check on government and corporate power.
To really understand the implications of this shift, think back to almost every famous investigative scoop. Then ask yourself: What would have happened to those stories had they only come to one of those 4 in 10 reporters who oppose the use of “confidential business or government documents without authorization”?
The answer, most likely, is that those stories would never have been published, and history might have unfolded in an entirely different way. Maybe “The Jungle” would never have been written, and then the most basic food safety standards would never have become law. Maybe Richard Nixon would have served two full terms. And maybe we would still know very little about just how much our own government is surveilling us.
British Spies Face Legal Action Over Secret Hacking Programs
By Ryan Gallagher, The Intercept
13 May 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
The United Kingdom’s top spy agency is facing legal action following revelations published by The Intercept about its involvement in secret efforts to hack into computers on a massive scale.
Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, has been accused of acting unlawfully by helping to develop National Security Agency surveillance systems capable of covertly breaking into potentially millions of computers and networks across the world.
GCHQ and the NSA have developed an array of the sophisticated surveillance implants, according to documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, with each of the spy tools tailored for a different purpose. Some are used to compromise large-scale internet networks so that the spies can sweep up private data as it is passing through them. Others infect specific computers with malicious software that effectively gives the agencies total control of a target’s machine – enabling them to take covert snapshots using its webcam, record audio using its microphone, log what is being typed on the keyboard, collect data from any removable flash drive that is connected, and snoop its Web browsing history.
Bill to curb NSA spying looks like change, but isn’t really
By David Lightman and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy
May 15, 2014
“The bottom line: This is largely faux reform and a surveillance salve,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior official turned whistle-blower who’s critical of the agency’s collection programs. “To date, neither the House nor Senate attempts go far enough.”
That’s not easy to discern, thanks to an outpouring of raves for the legislation. Democrats, Republicans and traditionally skeptical watchdog groups have put their muscle behind the USA Freedom Act.
But peek just past all the good will and there’s serious concern that Congress has much more to do. Not only are loopholes easy to find but also the government has other ways of collecting the data.
The mood on Capitol Hill, though, is acceptance. Most lawmakers are reluctant to sharply criticize the bill, realizing that one never gets all one wants and getting even a small piece is important.
Indeed, some are concerned that lawmakers _ seeing elections looming on the horizon _ will ultimately approve watered-down legislation.
“This could all end up as a shell game. It already has, in the past,” said Drake, the former NSA official. “Anytime these programs have been scrutinized, another authority or program becomes a back door.”
DEA settles suit alleging government lie-detector abuses
By Marisa Taylor, McClatchy
May 7, 2014
The Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to pay 14 contractors $500,000 to settle a lawsuit that accuses the agency of illegally requiring them to undergo highly intrusive lie detector tests to keep their jobs as translators.
The settlement appears to be the first time that a federal government agency has settled allegations involving contractors’ lie detector tests since a 1988 law banned the use of polygraph screening for most private employees, said a lawyer for the group.
The DEA did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but it agreed to re-screen the plaintiffs without weighing lie detector results. The agency also promised to delete references to the polygraphs from government records.
“This will serve as a message to other government agencies,” said Gene Iredale, the San Diego attorney who sued the DEA.
“The people who were involved in this case work hard and are of impeccable character. But because of a squiggle on a piece of paper and the poor administration of these polygraphs, they were humiliated and unfairly deprived of their employment.”
More than 20 federal agencies, including the DEA, are permitted to polygraph job applicants and employees to determine whether they’ve lied about their backgrounds, McClatchy has reported. About 73,000 people a year undergo polygraphs to obtain federal security clearances. The U.S. government estimates that almost 5 million people have security clearances, although it doesn’t say how many have been polygraphed.
Federal agencies have become more aggressive in polygraph-testing employees and applicants, not only since the Sept. 11 attacks but also since leaks to the media by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Spy satellite agency says it fixed its ‘broken’ polygraph program
By Marisa Taylor, McClatchy
May 15, 2014
The nation’s spy satellite agency has announced it overhauled its lie detector program after its inspector general found “significant shortcomings” that could put national security at risk.
The National Reconnaissance Office’s inspector general found the problems were so widespread that one senior official described the agency’s polygraph program as “terribly broken.”
“This official added that the current status of the NRO polygraph program is ‘bleak,'” the inspector general report said.
Polygraphers told McClatchy they were being pressured to go after prohibited personal matters during security clearance polygraphs, including, in one case, interrogating a longtime contractor about her molestation as a child.
Polygraphers said they were being rewarded with bonuses or penalized based on the number of admissions they obtained. McClatchy reviewed orders given to polygraphers that confirmed they were told in some cases to collect the more personal information. The polygraphers said it was not a written policy but an off-the-books requirement.
Gitmo: Too dangerous to release? Not so fast.
By Daphne Eviatar, Reuters
May 15, 2014
In Washington, however, with the National Defense Authorization Act now pending in Congress, lawmakers and policy experts are again debating what to do about the men the United States has indefinitely detained for alleged terrorist activity at Guantanamo Bay. The question is growing more urgent as Washington prepares to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year – officially ending the war there. That arguably ends the president’s authority to detain prisoners under the laws of war as well.
For anyone who’s watched terrorism trials unfold in New York, the underlying premise – that these men have committed crimes yet cannot be prosecuted – seems hard to believe. The government has managed to draw a broad range of suspected or convicted terrorists out of the shadows when needed to testify on everything from military-style training in Afghanistan to the testing of poison gas on small animals. At least one witness even testified for the government by videotape from another country – to avoid a U.S. indictment.
It’s therefore hard to believe the government couldn’t find people to provide enough evidence to prosecute these 45 alleged al Qaeda or Taliban fighters. If, indeed, they’ve done anything wrong.
(C)onsider Syed Hashmi, the former Brooklyn College student who pled guilty to material support for terrorism, after he loaned $300 to a friend staying with him and let his friend store ponchos and socks in his London apartment. The friend planned on delivering the items to al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Both men were convicted based on evidence provided by government informants previously convicted on terror-related charges. Such informants have a huge incentive to provide evidence against others charged with terror-related crimes in the hopes of winning leniency in their sentencing, or in some cases avoiding prosecution altogether.
The Justice Department has prosecuted hundreds of terrorism cases since the September 11 attacks. It’s hard to imagine the government hasn’t gathered enough evidence in those investigations to be able to link any actually guilty men at Guantanamo to terrorism.
The claim that there are dozens of men at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and are also too dangerous to release is a premise we wouldn’t accept from any other country. Before Washington policymakers buy into that idea, the government should be required to demonstrate publicly what evidence it has against these men, and whether and why that evidence is inadmissible in a court of law.
(T)o continue to detain indefinitely alleged “combatants” after the United States withdraws its combat troops from the war they fought in is to flout the rule of law. Even if Congress creates a new (and constitutionally questionable) law allowing it, it may well violate the international laws of war.
If these men are guilty of supporting or conspiring in terrorism, the government may prosecute them for that. If they’re not, then the clock is ticking: It will soon have to let them go.
Fatal V-22 Crash Tied by Marines to Pressure to Succeed
By Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg News
May 16, 2014 12:00 AM ET
The V-22 Osprey’s deadliest accident stemmed partly from “undeniably intense” pressure to show progress for the new tilt-rotor aircraft, according to the U.S. Marine Corps commandant.
“As I reflect on the mishap I cannot ignore the charged atmosphere into which the pilots flew that night, carrying on their shoulders a critically important program,” General James Amos wrote two lawmakers in a look back at the crash in 2000 that killed 19 Marines. “I believe they were eager to vindicate a revolutionary technology.”
While the accident happened more than 13 years ago, the lessons cited in the December letter, obtained by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act, may apply to similar pressures the military is under today to prove the value of new weapons such as Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 fighter and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship in a time of defense budget cuts.