Category Archives: General

The AP phone records scandal is seven years old

Apparently, there is a lot of outrage right now over the trampling of press freedoms occasioned by the FBI’s secret perusal of AP’s phone records.

The president of the Associated Press called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities, while Dana Milbank at the Washington Post reported today that the press corps at yesterday’s White House briefing was “incensed” over this “extraordinary abuse of power.”

Oddly enough, though, it was exactly seven years ago today that it became public knowledge that the Federal government tracks reporters’ phone records at will. The next day, a “senior federal official” told ABC’s Brian Ross, one of the targets, “It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration.”

The reason it was so easy was because a few years earlier, Congress had passed a law making it easy—the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, otherwise known as the USA Patriot Act.

Two days later, I asked White House press secretary Tony Snow about it. He issued a brief denial, and no one else at the briefing seemed at all concerned about the matter.

I suppose it’s a good thing that they eventually found their spines, but really it shouldn’t take seven years and a Democratic president for the press to learn that patriotism is the first resort of scoundrels.

Petitioning for a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change

Go here to sign the petition requesting a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change.

National Intelligence Estimates provide the consensus view on a particular intelligence/security issue among all the US intelligence agencies. The most notable recent ones were the 2002 NIE on Iraq, in which analysts and agencies were most assuredly not pressured by Bush administration officials into producing an overwrought and almost wholly inaccurate assessment of the threat posed by Iraq, and the 2007 and 2011 ones on Iran, which offered the widely-ignored conclusion that Iran isn’t trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The most significant thing about the National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change is that there isn’t one. No issue will be more critical to the national security of the United States during the next several decades, no issue will have more profound effects on the behavior of other countries and populations, but we’re doing next to nothing to prepare for it because the Obama administration is leery of the politics involved.

Accordingly, I’ve created a petition through the White House “We the People” service — best known these days for spawning multiple petitions promoting secession — requesting the administration to commission a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change, and I want you all to publicize it and sign it. It’s a simple mechanism for bringing attention to the issue and, with a relatively paltry number of signatures, forcing the administration to publicly respond to it.

Climate change isn’t an intelligence analysis specialty yet, and one of the arguments opponents of an effort to assess the threat of it will make is that intelligence agencies aren’t qualified to do so. There’s a blueprint for the effort, though; in 2008, members of Congress requested and received a less authoritative intelligence analysis on climate change in the form of a National Intelligence Assessment: specifically, the National Intelligence Assessment on Climate Change to 2030. (This is a summary of the unclassified portions delivered to Congress by the supervisor of the effort.)

The analysts who produced the report relied primarily on government climate scientists for projections of what conditions climate change is likely to create around the world, and then applied their expertise to determine what would be the likely responses to those conditions from the people subject to them.

One would expect climate change deniers to object to the effort, and they did; possibly the objections had an impact on the degree to which the unclassified summary of the report downplayed the potential for violent responses to climate change-related difficulties around the world.

That’s in contrast to the privately-commissioned climate change threat assessment published by the Center for Naval Analyses, a military issues think tank that produced “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” a year earlier.

Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Accordingly, it is appropriate to start now to help mitigate the severity of some of these emergent challenges. The decision to act should be made soon in order to plan prudently for the nation’s security. The increasing risks from climate change should be addressed now because they will almost certainly get worse if we delay.

If you’re concerned about climate change, and basically you’re an idiot if you’re not, this is the easiest thing you’ll ever be asked to do about it. Take 30 seconds, sign the petition and encourage others who might be interested to do the same. Let’s get the administration on the record about how seriously they take the issue.

The IMF wants me, plus, Iraq Who?

The latest scam spam in my inbox is a letter from a high-ranking official of the International Monetary Fund telling me to deal only with him in recovering my money from Nigeria. What is it with Nigeria?

Okay, so the war in Iraq is over, according to Obama. This is because the Iraqis rejected his energetic pleas to let him keep some troops in the country—”Okay, not 30,000. How about 10,000? 5? 3500? Okay, fine, we’re leaving, but don’t blame me if we have to come back in with guns a-blazing …”—rather than observing the exit plan humorously agreed upon by the Bush administration.

But even with that we’re not leaving, not if you count the 16,000-strong crowd manning the murder holes in the State Department’s gigantic downtown Baghdad bunker. By way of comparison, that’s almost as many people as staff every other US embassy in the world combined, minus Afghanistan.
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“… we’re accountable only to the people, not special interests.”

This is what Barack Obama tells me in his new email trying to part me from my $3. “Our campaign rejects all contributions from Washington lobbyists, and we refuse all money from corporate PACs. That means we’re accountable only to the people, not special interests.”

That’s nonsense, of course. That’s a lie. What are special interests if not people? People with money. People with lots and lots and lots of money, and particular interests that they share with other people who have lots and lots and lots of money.
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The fabulous new BTC News forum

We’ve added a bulletin board-like thing to the site which at some point will be integrated with the blog but for now is separate. You will find it here. It’s very basic and wholly undecorated at the moment, but presumably the decoration pixies will stop in sometime and remedy that.

Meanwhile, I’ll appreciate feedback from anyone who cares to visit the thing and tool around in it a bit. Drop a comment in the “feedback” category over there or in comments to this post. Thanks …

Moving closer to one-party right-wing rule

A few days ago I wrote about a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by former Microsoft COO Bob Herbold, who had recently returned from a visit to China. Herbold was enthused by the strides that country is making toward building a modern infrastructure and investing in technology development and scientific research. The lesson he took away from China’s progress is that the US needs to deal with “the burden of entitlements”—no surprise, coming from the Journal’s editorial pages—and elect a unified government capable of emulating China’s five-year plans. He expressed admiration for China’s own government, saying that “[t]he autocratic Chinese leadership gets things done fast (currently the autocrats seem to be highly effective).”

Herbold is far from the only person who dreams of a unity government and has access to opinion pages. New York Times doofus Tom Friedman reliably calls for a gridlock-shattering third party representing the massive Tom Friedman segment of the electorate, although he stops short of recommending dictatorial powers for Michael Bloomberg or whichever “centrist” plutocrat/daddy figure he thinks can crack the whip over a fractious Congress and impose the grownup agenda favored by wealthy columnists across the land. (Particularly entertaining was his insistence that Bloomberg couldn’t be influenced by money because he already has most of it.)
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Millionaires gather to steal from the old, the sick and the poor

That the rich relentlessly thieve from the poor is hardly fresh news, but a more attentive institutional press might see fit to mention, at least once in a while, how well off the negotiators wrangling over how deeply to cut social welfare programs are. Nobody in Congress will ever have to rely on Social Security to stay solvent, or on Medicare or Medicaid to stay alive.

The press might also see fit to mention that even the most impoverished inhabitants of Congress, even if they never work another day in their lives, have no other income and never get a dime from Social Security, will almost certainly take home more in retirement pay—they get generous pensions and taxpayer-assisted 401-K plans—than the median income in this country.
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A picture is worth 1,000 words, so I don’t have to write anything

I took this at about 3PM by the Santa Monica pier at low tide on an overcast day. At the risk of sounding immodest, please don’t use it without asking me for permission.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pier, these two gulls were into some kind of weird social transaction that was already happening when I got there and was still going on 10 minutes later when I moved along after finally getting a decent shot of them.

From the annals of really bad decisions …

Public Pension Funds Are Adding Risk to Raise Returns

States and companies have started investing very differently when it comes to the billions of dollars they are safeguarding for workers’ retirement.

Companies are quietly and gradually moving their pension funds out of stocks. They want to reduce their investment risk and are buying more long-term bonds.

But states and other bodies of government are seeking higher returns for their pension funds, to make up for ground lost in the last couple of years and to pay all the benefits promised to present and future retirees. Higher returns come with more risk.

“In effect, they’re going to Las Vegas,” said Frederick E. Rowe, a Dallas investor and the former chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board, which oversees public plans in that state. “Double up to catch up.”

What could possibly go wrong? Sure, the higher-risk stuff the public pension funds are buying includes “commodity futures, junk bonds, foreign stocks [and] deeply discounted mortgage-backed securities,” the latter of which are the sad remains of some of the crap that torpedoed the more traditional investments of the funds and made them desperate for higher returns, but hey, the cards are bound to turn their way and the house is a caring institution.

When the new investments blow up, as they inevitably will, waiting in the wings will be some stern and sorrowful but eager-to-help advisors offering easy solutions to the problems created for public institutions by impossible shortfalls in the pension funds, among which will be simply refusing to meet their pension obligations to their future retirees and perhaps cutting payments to current ones.

There’s a proud tradition of private sector companies doing that, usually as a condition of emerging from bankruptcy. A management failure turns into an opportunity to screw workers on behalf of creditors, and who wouldn’t jump at that?

Meanwhile, lots of pension fund proprietors will use contributions from their current employees to pay off their retired ones. When Bernie Madoff did this, it was called a Ponzi scheme and he will die in jail from it. When governments do it, it’s called fiscal responsibility and making the tough choices, and nobody goes to jail. Some people have to work a decade longer than they planned, and some people have to give up their retirement dreams but they were only dreams anyway.

Yum! Cat food!

But who knows, maybe it’ll all work out. Let it ride, baby. Seven come eleven …