March 12, 2015 archive

Asterix? The Gall!

UK Parliament Committee, Calling For Reform, Shows Its “Evidence” to Justify Mass Surveillance

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept


The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC) issued a lengthy report today on the surveillance practices of GCHQ. Invoking the now-standard Orwellian tactic of claiming that “bulk collection” is not “mass surveillance,” the Committee predictably cleared GCHQ of illegality, but it did announce that it has “serious concerns” over the agency’s lack of transparency and oversight. Citing the Snowden disclosures, it called for a significant overhaul of the legal framework governing electronic surveillance.

The report follows a British court decision last month finding that GCHQ did act illegally in spying without the transparency required by human rights laws. In light of the numerous official findings in the U.S., U.K. and the EU of illegality and the need for reform when it comes to electronic surveillance, it is hard to imagine how anyone could say that we’d have been better off if Edward Snowden had not blown the whistle on all of this and instead allowed us to remain ignorant of what these governments were doing in the dark. Given all these findings even from these governments, is there anyone who still thinks that way?

One of the most contested questions in the surveillance debate is whether mass collection stops terror attacks, as these agencies claim. A U.S. federal court, Obama’s own commission, an independent privacy board of the U.S. Government, and members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee have all categorically said no convincing evidence exists to show this is true.

But the 8 members of the UK Parliamentary Committee – one of whom is The Most Hon. The Marquess of Lothian – have concluded otherwise, claiming “that GCHQ’s bulk interception capability is used primarily to find patterns in, or characteristics of, online communications which indicate involvement in threats to national security.” The alleged basis for this conclusion is that “GCHQ have provided case studies to the Committee demonstrating the effectiveness of their bulk interception capabilities.” Here is the entirety of the discussion in this report of those successful “case studies”:

* * * * *

You’re just going to have to take their word for it: these mass surveillance programs were crucial in stopping these extremely dangerous terrorist plots. “Unfortunately,” you can’t know about any of this, but if those official asterisks don’t convince you, what will?

GCHQ literally collects billions of emails and other electronic communications events every day. But don’t worry: they don’t read every single one of them. They only read “***%” of what they collect, or “fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet in one day.” So what’s the big concern?

The great irony of this is that the Committee here is marching under the banner of greater transparency, even as their principal arguments rest on asterisks of concealment. But this is how the largest western democracies generally function: they make highly dubious (often disproven) claims to justify radical powers, and then demand that you accept them on faith, because allowing you to see the evidence for yourself would endanger your life. That tactic, as much as anything, is a very compelling explanation for why Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers decide to do what they do.

(Ok, maybe you are somewhat unfamiliar with popular French comic strips.  I admit it’s an acquired taste.)

Raising A Generation Of Ignoramuses

New York Hedge Funds Pour Millions of Dollars into Cuomo-Led Bid to Expand Charter Schools

Democracy Now

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Education “reformers'” new big lie: Charter schools become even more disastrous

by Jeff Bryant, Salon

Monday, Mar 2, 2015 08:30 AM EDT

Rather than directly address what ails struggling public schools, policy leaders increasingly claim that giving parents more choice about where they send their children to school – and letting that parent choice determine the funding of schools – will create a market mechanism that leaves the most competent schools remaining “in business” while incompetent schools eventually close.

Coupled with more “choice” are demands to increase the numbers of unregulated charter schools, especially those operated by private management firms that now have come to dominate roughly half the charter sector.

As schools lose more and more students to the charter schools, parents then “vote with their feet,” choice advocates argue, and the market will “work.”

In Ohio, for instance, a recent investigation into charter schools by state auditors found evidence of fraud that made North Carolina’s pale in comparison. The privately operated schools get nearly $6,000 in taxpayer money for every student they enroll, but half the charter schools the auditor looked at had “significantly lower” attendance than what they claimed in state funding.

One charter school in Youngstown had no students at all, having sent the kids home for the day at 12:30 in the afternoon.

This form of charter school fraud is so widespread, according to an article in Education Week, many states now employ “‘mystery’ or ‘secret shopper’ services used in retail” that pose as inquiring parents to call charter schools to ensure they’re educating the students they say they are.

Enrollment inflation is not the only form of fraud charter schools practice. In Missouri, a federal judge recently fingered a nationwide chain of charter schools, Imagine, for “self-dealing” in a lease agreement that allowed it to fleece a local charter school of over a million dollars.

“The facts of the case mirror arrangements in Ohio and other states,” the reporter noted, “where Imagine schools pay exorbitant rent to an Imagine subsidiary, SchoolHouse Finance. The high lease payments leave little money for classroom instruction and help explain the poor academic records of Imagine schools in both states.”

A charter school manager in Michigan is about to go on trial for steering nearly a million dollars in public funds targeted to renovate his charter school into his own bank account.

In Washington, which was late to the game of charters and choice, the state’s first charter school is already under investigation for financial and academic issues.

Investigators in the District of Columbia, recently uncovered a charter school operator who “funneled $13 million of public money into a private company for personal gain.”

A recent report from the Center for Popular Democracy looked at charter school finances in Illinois and found “$13.1 million in fraud by charter school officials … Because of the lack of transparency and necessary oversight, total fraud is estimated at $27.7 million in 2014 alone.”

One example the CPD report cited was of a charter operator in Chicago who used charter school funds amounting to more than $250,000 to purchase personal items from luxury department stores, including $2,000 on hair care and cosmetic products and $5,800 for jewelry.

While charter school operations continue to waste public money on scandals and fraud – all in the name of “choice” – newly enacted school vouchers divert more public school dollars to private schools.

In parts of Ohio, “the state-sponsored voucher program has increased or even doubled enrollment at some private schools.”

In Indiana, which has the largest taxpayer-funded school voucher program in the country, according to a local source, virtually all of the participating schools, 97 percent, are religiously affiliated private schools.

In Louisiana, over a third of students using voucher funds to attend private schools are enrolled schools “doing such a poor job of educating them that the schools have been barred from taking new voucher students.”

In parts of Wisconsin, “private schools accepting vouchers receive more money per student than public school districts do for students attending through open enrollment.”


The Breakfast Club (Captain, it’s rad… iation!)

The Guardian

So it’s 4 years on now from the Fukushima disaster.  What do we know?

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWell we know a little bit more about the extent of the damage.  There are 6 reactors at Fukushima Daichi only 3 of which were in operation at the time, but all of which are involved.  You don’t hear much about reactors 5 and 6 which were off line, but the reason they were off line is they were experiencing cooling problems.  They sit today fueled, hot, closely monitored but unapproachable due to the high levels of radiation, slated for decommissioning.

Unit 4 was in a similar stand down.  What makes it unique is that it still experienced massive damage from a hydrogen explosion and the bulk of its nuclear fuel was stored in a pool on it’s roof.

The good news is that all 1533 fuel rods have been removed as of just this last December, the bad news is that the ground is subsiding underneath it and the building is in danger of collapse.  Even without the fuel the structure is still highly radioactive in operating areas and thoroughly contaminated by fallout.

All of the active reactors, 1, 2, and 3 experienced both hydrogen explosions and core meltdowns which almost certainly in the case of Unit 1 and probably in all of them has breached every level of containment and is sitting partially buried in plain old soil.

The salt water used as an emergency measure during the early stages of the disaster has corroded and ruined almost every installed control system and massive amounts of water continue to be pumped to this day to contain the reaction.  This highly radioactive water is stored in big steel tanks (think Power Plant size) that are starting to rust and leak.  There is no plan for how to dispose of it.

Speaking of radioactive water, it leaks out of the big holes in the bottom of the reactor containment units into the ground and natural ground water continues to flow through the site to the sea in a large and permanent plume.  All efforts, including the much vaunted ‘ice dam’ created by freezing the dirt around the site have been an utter failure.

There doesn’t seem to be a Plan B.

Speaking of radiation, in most critical areas it remains high enough that even specially hardened electronics fail within hours, humans would die in days from exposure.  Even in outlying areas of the 30 km exclusion zone workers can receive a lifetime dose in weeks or months.  Thyroid cancer (an early indicator) has risen from 2 – 7 cases in a population of 100,000 to over 100 reported in a population of 300,000 so far.

Does that seem gloomy enough?

TEPCO (a zombie company, effectively bankrupt) and the Japanese Government continue to delay, obsfuscate, and minimize the impact of this event.  Independent science is actively discouraged in favor of happy fun time propoganda.  The Japanese Government, which is paying Billions for fossil fuels to maintain energy capacity, is actively pushing for the resumption of nuclear power production and the re-activation of the remaining 40+ plants despite the fact that they are no safer than they ever were.

In the mean time Solar is getting cheaper and better than ever to the point where it is price competitive with Oil even at $50 a Barrel.

Remember, it’s safe, clean, AND makes you glow in the dark so it’s easy to find your way to the bathroom at night!

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Science Oriented Video

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History March 12

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.

March 12 is the 71st day of the year (72nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 294 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1947, in a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asks for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the official declaration of the Cold War.

In February 1947, the British government informed the United States that it could no longer furnish the economic and military assistance it had been providing to Greece and Turkey since the end of World War II. The Truman administration believed that both nations were threatened by communism and it jumped at the chance to take a tough stance against the Soviet Union. In Greece, leftist forces had been battling the Greek royal government since the end of World War II. In Turkey, the Soviets were demanding some manner of control over the Dardanelles, territory from which Turkey was able to dominate the strategic waterway from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

Truman stated the Doctrine would be “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Truman reasoned, because these “totalitarian regimes” coerced “free peoples,” they represented a threat to international peace and the national security of the United States. Truman made the plea amid the crisis of the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). He argued that if Greece and Turkey did not receive the aid that they urgently needed, they would inevitably fall to communism with grave consequences throughout the region.

The policy won the support of Republicans who controlled Congress and involved sending $400 million in American money, but no military forces, to the region. The effect was to end the Communist threat, and in 1952 both countries joined NATO, a military alliance that guaranteed their protection.

The Doctrine was informally extended to become the basis of American Cold War policy throughout Europe and around the world. It shifted American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union from d├ętente (friendship) to, as George F. Kennan phrased it, a policy of containment of Soviet expansion. Historians often use its announcement to mark the starting date of the Cold War.

Long-term policy and metaphor

The Truman Doctrine underpinned American Cold War policy in Europe and around the world. The doctrine endured because it addressed a broader cultural insecurity regarding modern life in a globalized world. It dealt with Washington’s concern over communism’s domino effect, it enabled a media-sensitive presentation of the doctrine that won bipartisan support, and it mobilized American economic power to modernize and stabilize unstable regions without direct military intervention. It brought nation-building activities and modernization programs to the forefront of foreign policy.

The Truman Doctrine became a metaphor for emergency aid to keep a nation from communist influence. Truman used disease imagery not only to communicate a sense of impending disaster in the spread of communism but also to create a “rhetorical vision” of containing it by extending a protective shield around non-communist countries throughout the world. It echoed the “ quarantine the aggressor]” policy Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to impose to contain German and Japanese expansion in 1937. The medical metaphor extended beyond the immediate aims of the Truman Doctrine in that the imagery combined with fire and flood imagery evocative of disaster provided the United States with an easy transition to direct military confrontation in later years with communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. By presenting ideological differences in life or death terms, Truman was able to garner support for this communism-containing policy.

Late Night Karaoke

The Daily/Nightly Show (A Rose By Any Other Name)

Your Racist Update

Tonightly we are talking about banning words.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.”  You know, I never let words bother me, but I’m a child of privilege and maybe I don’t experience them the same way.  If I can provoke you to a mass of incoherent rage and name calling, good for me.  That means I win, you got nothing.  Now get your sorry ass back to a dictionary and learn some vocabulary fool.

On the other hand I am sensitive to the fact that other people may have different life experiences so I’m as careful as I can be to avoid inflamatory language.  I may call you a pea brained ignoramous right to your face, but because of your mental deficiencies you probably won’t notice anything other than the sneering tone with which I deliver it.  I rarely curse, and only for effect.

Do you think Twain should be shunned or bowlderized because he uses a certain term that accurately conveys how people thought about the Institution of Race Slavery?  I don’t.  It may surprise you to learn that the initial complaints about the language of Huckleberry Finn didn’t involve that term at all and were instead that Huck spoke the dialect of itinerant Missouri and the Victorian prudes were afraid that children would copy his ‘ghetto grammar’ in admiration of the character and defiance of the proper English of parental authority.

Heaven forfend we should give our kids any freedom.  Next thing you know they’ll be talking street and wearing hoodies and their pants around their ankles.

Banning words never makes the ideas go away.


Heffalumps and Woozles

This Week’s Guests-

Common is a Chicago rapper, writer, and actor.  In Selma he portrayed civil rights leader James Bevel and co-wrote the Oscar-winning song “Glory”.

The real news below.