February 27, 2015 archive

DHS: Yes, Shut It Down, Better Yet, Abolish It.

The Department of Homeland Security was created  a year after the attacks on the US by Arab militants on September 11, 2001. It was obvious to many of us that it was a knee jerk reaction to bolster the Bush administration’s new “war on terror.” that, eventually, led to the illegal overthrow of the sovereign government of Iraq and the current state of chaos in the Middle East, Near East and parts of Africa.

The newly Republican led congress decided to separate the funding for DHS from the omnibus bill to attempt to use it as a bargaining chip to block President Barrack Obama’s policies on undocumented immigrants. That has led to a stand off that may result in the shut down of most of DHS when funding runs out on Saturday.

GOP leaders are arguing that the three-week funding bill would keep the agency open. They’re also asking their members to vote to go to conference with the Senate. But Senate Democrats say they’ll refuse that request.

Without language overturning Obama’s actions, the GOP may not have the 218 votes necessary to approve the bill – especially with House Democratic leaders urging their members to vote against it.

Democrats are demanding a more permanent funding measure.

The Senate on Friday voted 68-31 to fund the department through the end of the fiscal year. That bill might pass the House, but only if GOP leaders are willing to accept a vote on legislation that would divide their party.

There are many reasons that this may not be the disaster that fear mongering politicians on both sides of the aisle are claiming. There are some who feel that after 14 years, this trillion dollar boondoggle needs to go.

In a commentary at The Guardian, Trevor Timm argues that the department is “George W Bush’s creation is too inefficient, wasteful and disrespectful of privacy to keep around. If Republicans want to shut it down, Democrats shouldn’t stop them.”

Besides the cost to American tax payers of $38.2 billion this year alone, there are these major issues with DHS:

Consider the DHS’ so-called “fusion centers”, which are little more than spying hubs that vacuum up information from federal and local authorities and store it for indefinite amounts of time. A scathing Senate report on the centers, which have cost the DHS at least $1.4 billion dollars, concluded that they produce “predominantly useless information” – one employee was quoted as calling it “a bunch of crap” – and that they also “run] afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties” and are “possibly in violation of the Privacy Act”. While they’ve spied on many people who [were engaged in purely First Amendment protected activities, they’re not known to have stopped a terrorist attack.

The department has also been a treasure trove for local police departments, giving them millions in military grade gear and specialized spying equipment without accountability. This has lead to some very serious violations of the people’s constitutional rights.

For example, they have a program to hand out funds for local police to buy surveillance drones and give grants to cops for controversial Stingray surveillance devices, which are fake cell phone towers that allow the police to spy on entire neighborhoods at once.

They also have their own Predator drones program (without the missiles like in Pakistan and Yemen) that they fly along the US border as well. A government report released in January derided DHS’s Predator drones as almost entirely ineffective and a giant waste of money. The report didn’t even cover the alarming privacy concerns of having sophisticated spying machines constantly flying over large parts of the country.

Some of the harshest criticism of the DHS has come from within the agency. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been mocked by it’s own current and former employees for churning out “intelligence spam” and producing “almost nothing you can’t find on Google.”

The article also noted that the department was criticized for its inability to secure its own buildings from hackers let alone any other government offices and another Senate report that called the DHS cybersecurity “incompetant.” On top of that there is the department’s over paying by hundreds of thousands of dollars for border patrol housing, millions wasted on vehicles that were purchased without any internal oversight or guidelines and misuse of government credit cards for personal expenses to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

So if the Republicans can’t figure out how to pass a clean funding bill, the Democrats should just let the DHS close, doing the American tax payers a great favor.

Tantrum in a Tea Bag

What is instructive about this is the factual denialism.  Just as fresh water Hayek inspired rattle shaking Shamen dispute the proven reality of Keynes in the macro world (and similar to the problem classical Physics has with Quantum equations appalling record of being predictively correct despite being counter-intuitive) so it is in the micro manipulated world of Mr. Market which has the galling indecency not to realize that the sky is falling despite the urgent claims of Rupert Murdoch Henny Penny.

Wall Street Journal Upset That Wall Street Isn’t Upset About Net Neutrality

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Fri, Feb 27th 2015 10:34am

A few weeks ago, after it was more or less confirmed that the FCC was going forward with full Title II reclassification of broadband, we noted that the stocks of the big broadband companies actually went up suggesting that Wall Street actually knows that reclassification won’t really impact broadband companies, despite what they’ve been saying publicly. Perhaps this is partly because those same companies have been telling Wall Street that the rule change won’t have an impact.

However, for the Wall Street Journal — which has become weirdly, obsessively, anti-net neutrality — this is an abomination. The newspaper has spent months trying to whip everyone into a frenzy about how evil net neutrality is, using some of the most blatantly wrong arguments around. Just a few days ago, the WSJ turned to its former publisher, now columnist, L. Gordon Crovitz to spread as much misinformation as possible. This is the same L. Gordon Crovitz who a few years ago wrote such a ridiculously wrong article on the history of the internet that basically everyone shoved each other aside to detail how he mangled the history. He, bizarrely, insisted that the government had no role in the creation of the internet. Crovitz also has a history of being wrong (and woefully uninformed) about surveillance and encryption. It’s difficult to understand why the WSJ allows him to continue writing pieces that are so frequently factually challenged.

Actually, it’s not difficult at all.

In this latest piece, Crovitz suggests that Ted Cruz didn’t go far enough in comparing Obamacare to net neutrality, arguing that net neutrality is even “worse.”



The paper of record for Wall Street, which normally likes to suggest that markets are “right” about everything, is absolutely positive that the markets are wrong about this. And it’s furious. It has an article demanding that broadband investors need to “wake up” to what’s happening with net neutrality.



At the end of the article, the WSJ pretends that maybe the reason why stocks are up is because investors expect that the broadband players will win an eventual court battle, but that seems like wishful thinking on multiple levels. Let’s go with Occam’s Razor on this one. The market is up because everyone knows that Title II won’t make a huge difference at all for the prospects of broadband companies. Multiple Wall St. analysts have been saying this for months, as have the big broadband companies to the analysts themselves.

La, la, la, la, la.

Is Cuomo Covering His Corrupt Tracks?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The International Business Times is reporting the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the destruction of state government e-mails older than 90 days. Cuomo ordered this in the midst of a Federal investigation into public corruption.

In a memo obtained by Capital New York, Cuomo officials announced that mass purging of email records is beginning across several state government agencies. The timing of the announcement, which followed through on a 2013 proposal, is worth noting: The large-scale destruction of state documents will be happening in the middle of a sprawling federal investigation of public corruption in Albany. That investigation has been looking at state legislators and the Cuomo administration.

Cuomo’s move to purge state emails follows a similar move he made as state Attorney General. International Business Times confirmed that in 2007, he put in place a mass deletion policy for emails in the New York Attorney General’s office that were more than 90 days old, making it difficult for the public to know how — or whether — his office investigated bank fraud in the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008. In the Cuomo administration’s announcement this week, the governor’s chief information officer, Maggie Miller, justified the new email purge as a cost-saving measure aimed at “making government work better.”

But former prosecutors and open-government advocates interviewed by IBTimes say the move seems designed to hide information.

According to the Capital News article, the memo (pdf) from Ms. Miller, a former Girls Scouts of America executive who was hired in December, was sent to agency heads of Friday. The article goes on tho site that over a dozen advocacy agencies sent a letter to the governor’s office (pdf) last month  arguing that the policy was out of step with federal guidelines and technologically unnecessary:

In this era, government runs on email, and access to email and electronic records has become a cornerstone of public transparency. Our groups are very concerned that the administration’s June 2013 policy of using centralized software to automatically delete state employee emails after 90 days is resulting in the destruction of emails that are considered public records under New York’s Freedom of Information Law,” wrote the groups, which were organized by Reinvent Albany. “This policy was adopted without public notice or comment. Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the inevitable destruction of email records under your 90-day automatic deletion policy directly undermines other public accountability laws like the False Claims Act.

New York’s contract with Microsoft, which developed Office 365, allows for 50 gigabytes of e-mail storage per employee. Reinvent Albany estimated this would be enough to handle up to 30 years worth of messages. [..]

In addition to the federal seven-year standard, other states like Washington, Florida and Connecticut have retention periods of between two and five years. The Central Intelligence Agency recently proposed a three-year retention period for departing employees, and was criticized for not archiving messages for longer. Shorter retention periods are more common in corporations seeking to reduce their exposure in litigation, according to a memorandum compiled by Reinvent Albany (pdf).

After Cuomo abruptly ended his Moreland Commission that was investigating campaign finance and public corruption when it apparently got too close to his own office, US Attorney Prete Brarara began a federal probe into Albany. The timing of this order raises significant legal questions, according to Melanie Sloan, a former Clinton Justice Department official:

“This is potentially obstruction of justice,” she told IBTimes. “The only reason that the government destroys records is so no one can question what it is doing, and no one can unearth information about improper conduct. There’s no reason for New York not to preserve this information.”

Sloan said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is spearheading the Albany probe, could issue a letter to Cuomo ordering him to preserve all documents that could be relevant to the public corruption investigation. In May 2014, Bharara issued such a letter to state legislators. Bharara’s office declined to comment when asked by IBTimes if it had now issued a similar directive to Cuomo.

John Kaehny, the head of a coalition of transparency group called Reinvent Albany, said the purge order may be designed to circumvent obstruction of justice statutes that are designed to prevent deliberate document destruction.

“[The policy] may mean that you could never be accused of obstructing justice or destroying evidence because you could claim that the machine automatically deleted it,” he told IBTimes. “It creates a loophole and opportunity to destroy embarrassing emails.” [..]

Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, says beyond questions about legality, the public should be concerned about how the policy may preclude journalists from reporting on state government.

“This policy will allow the Cuomo administration, in many cases, to delete newsworthy emails faster than reporters can even request them,” Timm said. “It looks like an attempt to avoid accountability.”

This lookng more and more like a cover up of Cuomo’s corruption ever since he was the state’s attorney general. Hopefully, he won’t get away with it.

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy – March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015

Leonard Simon Nimoy, Mr. Spock, died in his Los Angeles home this morning of end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was 83.

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Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits – poetry, photography and music in addition to acting – ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

Cartnoon

Friends don’t let man’s best friend

Drive.

The Breakfast Club (A Fool Believes He Sees)

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.

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This Day in History

Germany’s Reichstag burns, giving the Nazis under Adolf Hitler a pretext to seize absolute power; A cease-fire ends the Persian Gulf War; Actress Elizabeth Taylor born; Children’s TV host Fred Rogers dies.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

Thomas Paine

On This Day In History February 27

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 27 is the 58th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 307 days remaining until the end of the year (308 in leap years).

On this day in 1827, New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras with groups of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

History

The celebration of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by early French settlers. The first record of the holiday being celebrated in Louisiana was at the mouth of the Mississippi River in what is now lower Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on March 3, 1699. Iberville, Bienville, and their men celebrated it as part of an observance of Catholic practice.

The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is unknown. An account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established. Processions and wearing of masks in the streets on Mardi Gras took place. They were sometimes prohibited by law, and were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833 Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.

James R. Creecy in his book Scenes in the South, and Other Miscellaneous Pieces describes New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1835:

   Shrove Tuesday is a day to be remembered by strangers in New Orleans, for that is the day for fun, frolic, and comic masquerading. All of the mischief of the city is alive and wide awake in active operation. Men and boys, women and girls, bond and free, white and black, yellow and brown, exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolic, horrible, strange masks, and disguises. Human bodies are seen with heads of beasts and birds, beasts and birds with human heads; demi-beasts, demi-fishes, snakes’ heads and bodies with arms of apes; man-bats from the moon; mermaids; satyrs, beggars, monks, and robbers parade and march on foot, on horseback, in wagons, carts, coaches, cars, etc., in rich confusion, up and down the streets, wildly shouting, singing, laughing, drumming, fiddling, fifeing, and all throwing flour broadcast as they wend their reckless way.

On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mystick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization. It started a number of continuing traditions. It is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. According to one historian, “Comus was aggressively English in its celebration of what New Orleans had always considered a French festival. It is hard to think of a clearer assertion than this parade that the lead in the holiday had passed from French-speakers to Anglo-Americans. . . .To a certain extent, Americans ‘Americanized’ New Orleans and its Creoles. To a certain extent, New Orleans ‘creolized’ the Americans. Thus the wonder of Anglo-Americans boasting of how their business prowess helped them construct a more elaborate version of the old Creole Carnival. The lead in organized Carnival passed from Creole to American just as political and economic power did over the course of the nineteenth century. The spectacle of Creole-American Carnival, with Americans using Carnival forms to compete with Creoles in the ballrooms and on the streets, represents the creation of a New Orleans culture neither entirely Creole nor entirely American.”

In 1875 Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but the city has always celebrated Carnival.

Late Night Karaoke

The Daily/Nightly Show (The Undiscovered Country)

Black women?  What do women want?  I always assume it’s that same thing that I, as a human, want; but maybe it’s totally different.

Red Shirts

Continuity

Sarcasm, Insults, and Dishonest Editing

Olivia Wilde will be on to promote her latest, The Lazarus Effect.

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime

We would sit down and think which way

To walk and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow;

A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, Lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust:

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may,

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Next Week’s Guests-

The real news below.