Friday, June 28, 2013

Random Friday Video: TMNT out of the Shadows trailers

Fox News Ignores Favored Judiciary Committee Congressman Now That He Supports Fixing VRA

SERGIO MUNOZ/Media Matters For America

Conservative Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, was a frequent legal authority for Fox News until he announced that he was part of a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that the Supreme Court recently struck down.
In the past two months, Fox News has repeatedly turned to the legal expertise of Sensenbrenner, former Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, on issues ranging from the investigation of national security leaks by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) under the Patriot Act.
Fox News host Sean Hannity, in particular, has expressed his admiration for Sensenbrenner's stature, hosting him on the June 17 edition of his show and informing the long-time congressman that "you're one of the guys that has always been on principle, which I admire and I know you have been there a while, fighting the good fight every day."
Indeed, Hannity appears to have specifically invited Sensenbrenner onto his show that day so the congressman could defend him from Media Matters' observation that the Fox News host was wildly hypocritical in his criticism of the NSA's current surveillance practices. Hannity subsequently praised Sensenbrenner's defense of the Fox News host and his legal explanation of the Patriot Act - legislation the congressman ushered through the House as Judiciary Committee chair - as "enlightening, edifying."
Sensenbrenner is also well-known for leading the effort to pass another overwhelmingly supported bipartisan bill signed into law by Bush: the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA, which the Supreme Court just infamously gutted in Shelby County v. Holder.
Because Congress accumulated extensive evidence to update and justify the VRA's selection of jurisdictions whose election changes remain subject to federal review due to their inability to stop suppressing the vote on the basis of race, Sensenbrenner has repeatedly defended Congress' reauthorization work. Sensenbrenner even filed an amicus brief for the Supreme Court in strong support of the VRA against the right-wing challenge in Shelby County, which the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court ignored.
Now, although Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), current chair of the Judiciary Committee and another Republican who voted to reauthorize the VRA in 2006, is conspicuously silent, Sensenbrenner is helping lead the bipartisan effort to once again pass the VRA provision that was struck down in Shelby County. As reported byThe Hill:
A House Republican who led the last push to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to join him in bringing the law back to life.
The day after the Supreme Court quashed the anti-discrimination statute, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) urged lawmakers to cast aside their differences and restore the rejected provisions for the sake of voter protection.
"The Voting Rights Act is vital to America's commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process," Sensenbrenner, the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday in a statement.
"This is going to take time, and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans' most sacred right is protected."
But a Media Matters search of transcripts provided by Snapstream and Nexis reveals that not only has Sensenbrenner been missing from Fox News since the Supreme Court handed down its decision on June 25, his new VRA efforts have not been discussed.
Instead, Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed National Review Online contributing editor Andrew McCarthy, who attacked progressives as demagogues and "race hucksters," pushing the false claim that systematic voter suppression on the basis of race "has long ago passed to the dustbin of history." Hannity chose right-wing pundit Erik Rush for his show's segment on Shelby County, a guest who proceeded to defend the opinion on the grounds that the VRA's defense against racial discrimination is useless because "we've got far, far more of a problem with dead voters and entire blocks of voters getting abducted by aliens[.]"
Sensenbrenner, on the other hand, a guest Hannity has declared he holds in such high esteem, remains absent on Fox News. In fact, the congressman has only been mentioned once on Fox News this week, in a June 28 segment of America's Newsroom that returned to the pre-Shelby discussion of national security leaks.
Meanwhile, Sensenbrenner's thoughts on Shelby County and his attempt "to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans' most sacred right is protected" remains unreported on Fox.

GOP blocks medicaid expansion in Mississippi

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‘We Don’t Waste Time Talking about Clarence Thomas. Everybody Knows It’s a Deep Tragedy’

By: Sarah Jones/politicususa

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are none too impressed with the Clarence Thomas’ vote to strike downSection 4 of the Voting Rights Act. When asked by the Huffington Post what his thoughts were on the matter, Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia said that Clarence Thomas’s vote was worse than what Snowden did, because Thomas, as a black person, was “legally aware of the consequences” of striking down integral parts of the Voting Rights Act but did it anyway.
Johnson told HuffPo that caucus members are used to Thomas harming the black community, “We don’t waste time sitting around talking about Clarence Thomas. Everybody knows it’s a deep tragedy.”
Just days ago, Clarence Thomas compared affirmative action to slavery and further suggested that diversity offers no benefits for students’ eduction, “As should be obvious, there is nothing ‘pressing’ or ‘necessary’ about obtaining whatever educational benefits may flow from racial diversity.” Tragic indeed. Thomas’ very conservative ideology seems to be, let the “free market” fix what systemic, lawless tyranny destroyed.
Johnson, a Buddhist, was an outspoken critic of the Iraq War. After Bush’s State of the Union Address in 2007, Johnson said, “This war has proven to be one of the gravest missteps in the recent history of our country. It is time for President Bush to face the music and respond to the urgent demands of a frustrated country.” He was also a Judge in the Magistrate Court of DeKalb County, Georgia for over 10 years and received his law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1979.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) called the decision “ghastly” and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said the court “put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act.”
In 1991, the Congressional Black Caucus had the foresight tooppose Thomas (19-1) for a seat on the high court, even though he would be just the second black to serve on the court. (This should assist Republicans in their belief that blacks only voted for Obama because he’s black, but we all know they aren’t listening to reality right now.)
The lone dissenting voice on the caucus vote over Thomas was the only black Republican. This is further proof that policies matter, because the caucus opposed Thomas after reviewing his civil rights record.
Johnson is correct, Thomas is indeed the personification of a deep tragedy.
By gutting section 4, which provides the formula for determining which states must have any changes to their voting laws pre-approved by the Justice Department, the court left the matter up to this congress. (No wonder everyone is so dispirited.)
The Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened via legislation, as Al Franken suggested on Tuesday, and Section 4 rewritten to provide more oversight, not less — especially given the recent Republican attempts to violate voting rights across the nation.

Glenn Greenwald Is Ralph Nader

By Jonathan Chait/New York Magazine
The debate over domestic surveillance is not a debate about what we think about Glenn Greenwald. But Greenwald is a fascinating character. His resemblance to Ralph Nader is not one that, so far as I can tell, anybody has thought to make. But the resemblance is striking. It’s not a resemblance of historical place — Greenwald is neither going to lead a new regulatory wave nor get a Republican elected president. The resemblance is characterological and ideological.
For Greenwald, like Nader, the lawyer is the key protagonist in his political drama. Political victory is a series of successful lawsuits. He is wildly litigious:
In 1997, Achatz and Greenwald filed another lawsuit for broken elevators in their building. (They lived on the 32nd floor.) They later moved into another building in Midtown Manhattan, and countersued after being sued by that landlord for having a dog that weighed more than 35 pounds. They sued American Airlines and its parent company for not placing the right number of miles flown in their frequent-flier account.
Greenwald, like Nader, marries an indefatigable mastery of detail with fierce moralism. Every issue he examines has a good side and an evil side. Greenwald, speaking not long ago to the New York Times, said something revealing about his intellectual style:
“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”
That is a highly self-aware account. Of course, the job description of a litigator does not include being fair. You take a side, assume the other side is lying, and prosecute your side full tilt. It’s not your job to account for evidence that undermines your case — it’s your adversary’s job to point that out.
I won’t pretend to be neutral here — I’ve tangled with Greenwald numerous times. So, for instance, he called me a “McCain worshiper,” and it is true that I have written some highly favorable things about John McCain. I’ve also written some highly critical things. I pointed out to Greenwald that, when I have called McCain, among other things, a “dangerous sociopath,” it would at least complicate the picture in such a way as to preclude me from being called a “worshiper.” But no, Greenwald dug in deeper, assembling all the evidence he could muster for his side and ignoring all the evidence pointing in the opposite direction.
Greenwald, like Nader, does not believe in meliorist progress. If you are not good, you are evil. Even at the heyday of his career, when he was one of the most powerful figures in America and his brand of crusading regulation reigned nearly unchallenged, Nader was constantly denouncing congressional liberal allies for failing to pass sufficiently pure iterations:
 In 1970, Nader championed a report by his staff savaging Ed Muskie, the liberal senator from Maine. Muskie, who helped engineer the Air Quality Act of 1967, had a reputation as an environmental ally, but Nader's report called the act "disastrous," adding, "That fact alone would warrant his being stripped of his title as 'Mr. Pollution Control.'" 
That same year, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to create a Consumer Protection Agency (CPA), what Nader called his highest legislative goal. But, just days after praising the bill, Nader turned against it, saying that "intolerable erosions" had rendered the bill "unacceptable." As Martin writes, "Without Nader's backing, the bill lost momentum" and died in committee. The pattern repeated itself, as the CPA passed either the House or the Senate five more times over the next six years, but Nader rejected every bill as too compromised.
That is the echo of Greenwald’s suspicions of the Democratic agenda. President Obama scaled back some of the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies — torture, warrantless wiretapping — but kept in place others. One could make the case that he did not change enough, but that is not a Greenwald sort of argument. He insists that Obama is worse than Bush. Obama’s health-care reform was not just a step along the way to Greenwald’s ideal, it was a monstrous sellout that probably did no good at all (“there is a reasonable debate to be had among reform advocates over whether this bill is a net benefit or a net harm.”).
This way of looking at the world naturally places one in conflict with most liberals, who are willing to distinguish between gradations of success or failure. Nader and Greenwald believe their analysis not only completely correct, but so obviously correct that the only motivation one could have to disagree is corruption. Good-faith disagreement, or even rank stupidity, is not possible around Greenwald. His liberal critics are lackeys and partisan shills. He may be willing to concede ideological disagreement with self-identified conservatives, but a liberal who disagrees can only be a kept man.
For Greenwald, like for Nader, the evils of liberals loom far larger than the evils of conservatives. The most annoying question in the world is the one posed to them most frequently: Aren’t the Republicans worse? They are loath to give their critics the satisfaction of an affirmative response, which they fear will justify ignoring their urgent denunciations. So much of their intellectual energy is devoted to formulating complex chains of reasoning as to why just the opposite is true. “The only difference between [Gore and Bush] is the velocity at which their knees hit the floor,” said Nader. Greenwald insisted that “even if Obama is the lesser of two evils, he’s the more effective of two evils.” Statements like this make their putative allies more nervous, or even provokes them to break with them altogether. But this only convinces them all the more deeply of their uncorruptable virtue.

Maddow: ‘Rick Perry talking about sex in public never goes well’

By David Ferguson/Raw Story

Thursday night on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” host Rachel Maddow took on Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)’s attempt to slam state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) by using her former status as an unwed mother against her. Davis went on a 13-hour filibuster at the state capitol in Austin this week to prevent Republicans from passing a draconian law virtually outlawing abortion in the state and reducing the state’s number of abortion-providing clinics to five.
Perry has been governor of Texas for 13 years. Many people say that when his current term is up, the governor will decline to run for his office again, but instead will focus his sights on another presidential run.
“And who knows?” Maddow said. “Maybe he’ll do great this time.”
On paper, Maddow said, Perry is a great candidate. “The problem is that the election isn’t on paper. There’s the talking.”
Perry’s 2012 run was marred by a series of bone-headed misstatements and unforced errors, including his notorious “Oops!” gaffein the Republican primary debates when he couldn’t remember what three agencies of the government he would eviscerate on his first day in office as president.
Maddow played a clip from a 2010 interview at the studios of KRLU radio in which the Texas governor crashed and burned when asked a question about the inefficacy of abstinence-only education. A question asked the governor to explain how abstinence-only education is working for Texas, given that under the Perry administration, Texas rose up to the nation’s third highest position on teen pregnancy rates.
When pressed, the governor stammered out, “I’m sorry, I’m just going to tell you…from my own personal life, abstinence works.” said Perry. “If the point is…we’re going to stand up here and say, ‘Y’all go have sex and have the whatever is going on…and here’s the ways to have safe sex.’ I’m sorry; call me old-fashioned if you want, but that’s not what I’m going to stand up in front of the people in the state of Texas and say, ‘That’s the way we need to go, and forget about abstinence.’”
“Texas Gov. Rick Perry talking about sex in public,” Maddow said, “never goes well. And today he turned those bright lights of his” toward Texas state Senator Wendy Davis.
“And that really did not go well,” she continued.
She noted that “about 15 hours after Davis declared her intention to run for statewide office,” Gov. Perry went on the attack.
Perry commented on the Davis filibuster from the podium at the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas. In his remarks, the governor said that Wendy Davis “was the daughter of a single woman. She was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.”
Later that day on Dallas radio, he said, “She didn’t come from particularly good circumstances. What if her mom had said, you know, ‘I just can’t do this, I don’t want to do this’ at that particular point in time? I think it becomes very personal.”
Maddow said that Davis must be very glad that the governor was kind enough to “mansplain” her own circumstances to her and how grateful she must be that her mother didn’t abort her.
“You got that, Senator Davis?” Maddow asked. “About your own life and what you need to learn from it? Isn’t it nice that you managed to get through law school?”
Davis, for her part, wasted few words reacting to Perry’s attack, saying, “I would just say that it really demeans the office that he holds to make a personal statement like that.”
Watch the clips, embedded below via MSNBC:
Part One:

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Part Two:

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Colorado Parade Canceled After Tea Party Group Threatens Armed March

By Kirsten Gibson/Guest blogger for Think Progress
A group of Tea Party members caused fear that a Colorado town’s 4th of July parade won’t be safe to attend because they’ll be carrying weapons.
The town of Westcliffe normally has a lively 4th of July parade every year and is described as the busiest day for businesses. This year, however, citizens were afraid of what will happen with as many as 300 people marching with guns slung on their shoulders.
The Southern Colorado Patriots’ Club sent a out a flier advertising the parade and instructing members to bring unloaded rifles, “especially the evil black ones.”
The Custer County Chamber of Commerce, the event’s sponsor, cancelled the parade after fearful citizens circulated a petition to stop the club. Donna Hood, president of the chamber, abstained from the vote to cancel the parade but told the Denver Post that the controversy has “polarized this community in a week.”
According to the Post, members have carried concealed weapons in the past, but this year want to be more dramatic after two gun control laws passed the legislature that will take effect on Monday. The Colorado magazine bill, which limits gun magazines to 15 rounds, and the background-check bill, which requires background checks for all transfers and sales of firearms.
In May, a group of protesters signed up to march in Washington, D.C. with loaded rifles, even though it was against the law. The leader of the march compared himself to Gandhi for his efforts, but later abandoned the march to create a “secessionist army.”

North Carolina Republicans Drastically Cut Benefits For Job Seekers

By Alan Pyke/Think Progress
Life gets tougher as of Sunday for over 400,000 out of work Tarheels as a set of unprecedented cuts to jobless benefits passed by North Carolina Republicans in February take effect. The bill didn’t just shorten the length of state-funded unemployment insurance, as several states have done. It also cut the level of weekly benefit payments, violating a provision of the federal unemployment insurance program and leaving the state ineligible for federal jobless funds.
North Carolina is the first state to be dropped from the national Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides funds for eligible job seekers when they exhaust state-level benefit programs. Seven other states have enacted jobless insurance cuts that will mean their unemployed citizens receive fewer weeks of federal benefits, but North Carolina is the only state to have made itself outright ineligible for the money.
North Carolina’s Republicans said their slashing of jobless benefits will “put North Carolinians back to work.” But that’s not what the evidence says. Multiple research findings indicate that unemployment insurance doesn’t cause a substantial increase in how long someone remains without work. Recipients actually work harder to find a job than non-recipients who are unemployed, as active job seeking is a condition of the benefit.
And economist Larry Katz, whose 1980s research on the subject is frequently cited by the right, says his previous findings about unemployment insurance extending the duration of unemployment don’t apply in the Great Recession. “I strongly favor extensions of UI benefits when the labor market is weak,” Katz told PolitiFact in 2009. Booting job-seekers from the support system does nothing to change the ugly reality that there are still three unemployed people for every job opening. That ratio of job hunters to available jobs is down from nearly 7:1 in mid-2009.
The combined safety net of federal and state unemployment insurance programs kept 2.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2011.
Benefits are already very low without cuts. The maximum weekly benefit in the state had been $535, before taxes, but the average benefit was far lower: $299 per week, pre-tax, according to the Department of Labor. The national average hovers around $300 per week as well.

Witness Makes Key Admission That He Never Saw Trayvon Martin Throw A Punch At Zimmerman

By Rebecca Leber/Think Progress
On day five of George Zimmerman’s trial for the death of Trayvon Martin, a key witness who previously claimed to have seen Martin “throwing down blows” admitted he never saw an actual punch thrown. This admission from John Good could undermine Zimmerman’s claim he shot 17-year-old Martin in reasonable self-defense.
According to the original police report, Good claimed he had seen a black male pinning Zimmerman down “just throwing down blows on the guy, MMA [mixed-martial arts] style.” But on Friday, Good told jurors he “could not see” any punches thrown, only that there was “downward movement.” He also admitted he was not 100 percent sure who yelled “help,” but assumed it was Zimmerman. It is not the first time Good has changed his account of the night Martin died. Three weeks after the incident, Good told a special prosecutor he couldn’t truly tell who yelled for help “because it was so dark out on that sidewalk.”
The reliability of witness testimony has been a major focus for both the defense and state prosecution in the trial. Zimmerman’s defense attorneys have tried to highlight inconsistencies of another witness, 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin moments before the shooting. Asked repeatedly by Zimmerman’s attorney Don West why she lied about her reason for not attending Martin’s wake, Jeantel admitted she did not want to see his body. “You. Got. To. Un. Der. Stand,” Jeantel said. “I’m the last person—you don’t know how I felt. You think I really want to go see the body after I just talked to him?”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CNN Invites Hate Group Leader To Peddle Lies Following DOMA Decision

CARLOS MAZA/Media Matters For America:

Less than an hour after the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), CNN invited anti-gay hate group leader Tony Perkins to comment on the decision and allowed him to promote damaging myths about marriage equality.
During the June 26 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Wolf Blitzer invited Perkins - president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC) - to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor v. United States, which struck down a provision of DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages.
Perkins responded by peddling a number of blatant falsehoods about marriage equality, none of which Blitzer challenged:
PERKINS: What we're going to see happen over time as this plays out in the jurisdictions that have adopted same-sex marriage, you're going to see a loss of parental rights as children are taught in school morals that are contradictory to their parents', religious liberty loss from business owners, bakers, florists and others who are forced to comply with a different view of marriage, as well as even churches - in some places religious organizations losing their tax exemption because they fail to comply with the force of the state in terms of redefining marriage.
Each of Perkins' horror stories about same-sex marriage have been repeatedly debunked. These claims are also not relevant to the Supreme Court's DOMA decision, which merely allows for federal recognition of same-sex marriages in states that have already legalized marriage equality.
CNN also invited Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, to condemn the decision. Unsurprisingly, Mohler called the Supreme Court's decision "very, very devastating for our country over the long term."
CNN has a history of promoting Perkins' commentary on a range of issues, despite his record of making extreme, hateful, and wildly inaccurate claims about LGBT people.

Supreme Court rulings bolster equality argument

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The Roberts Court casts aside judicial restraint on Voting Rights Act case

By The Washington Post Editorial Board:
LED BY Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court on Tuesday gutted a key element of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most potent anti-discrimination tools Congress ever devised. It was an audacious ruling devoid of the restraint the chief justice and his colleagues in the majority should have shown.
Among other things, the act obliges certain states and localities to “pre-clear” any change in electoral policy or procedure with either the Justice Department or a federal court. In its 5 to 4 decision, the court didn’t squash the notion that such a powerful measure could be acceptable. Instead, the majority held that the formula Congress used to determine which jurisdictions to subject to pre-clearance — mostly in the South, with its grotesque history of racial discrimination — was an artifact from the 1960s with “no logical relation to the present day.”
Yet, Congress concluded in 2006, the last time that it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act, that the formula was still very relevant. And, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in a spirited dissent, federal lawmakers have wide latitude under the 14th and 15th amendments to preserve meaningful access to the vote, particularly against policy or procedural manipulations that limit the franchise of racial minorities. That’s why a previous high-court holding found that those lawmakers could use “any rational means” to combat racial discrimination at the ballot box — a permissive standard.
Congress spent months in 2006 amassing a massive record to show that, even though the first generation of discriminatory voting measures had been eradicated, subtler but significant forms of discrimination in jurisdictions subject to pre-clearance remained “serious and pervasive.” Lawmakers also considered evidence that discrimination still occurs disproportionately in those places. Because people and places change, Congress allowed jurisdictions with 10 years of good behavior to “bail out” of pre-clearance. It also allowed courts to “bail in” jurisdictions if need be. Both were essential elements of the system, allowing it to adapt to changing realities. That was the basis upon which a 390 to 33 majority in a Republican-controlled House and a 98 to 0 majority in a Republican Senate determined that pre-clearance requirements remained rational policy that deserved extension until 2031.
The question in Tuesday’s case, Justice Ginsburg wrote, was who gets to make the judgment about that extension — “this court, or a Congress charged with the obligation to enforce the post-Civil War amendments ‘by appropriate legislation.’ ” Instead of taking a more modest course, perhaps by enhancing the opportunity for jurisdictions to bail out, Justice Roberts and the jurists who joined him instead substituted their reading of the substantial evidence available for that of Congress. That’s not just calling balls and strikes — that’s pushing the batter aside and stepping into his place.
According to the ruling, lawmakers still have room to devise a new formula for determining which states and localities should have to pre-clear their election rules. Lawmakers should proceed, while taking care — both because pre-clearance is as formidable a tool as it is effective and because a skeptical chief justice will be watching.

The Errors of Edward Snowden and His Global Hypocrisy Tour

by Kurt Eichenwald/Vanity Fair

My tolerance for Edward Snowden has run out.
The former contractor with the National Security Agency who divulged classified secrets about domestic surveillance programs has undertaken what can only be depicted as the global hypocrisy tour. A man outraged by American surveillance and who advocates free expression toodles happily to Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China? Then off to Moscow? Then tries for Ecuador (and, in some accounts, Cuba)?
And along the way, Eddie decided to toss out classified information about foreign-intelligence surveillance by the United States in other countries. For the Chinese, he was quite a spigot of secretsHe revealed documents showing that the N.S.A. had obtained text messages from the Chinese by hacking into some of the country’s telecommunications networks, engaged in computer espionage activities at Tsinghua University, and hacked into systems of Pacnet, an Asian provider of global telecommunications service.
Now, before I get into the specifics of Snowden’s China leaks, I want to stop for a minute. I know that, from the time he disclosed classified documents about the mass collection of Americans’ telecommunications data, there have been plenty of debates about whether Snowden is a whistle-blower or a traitor. And I can understand that disagreement when it comes to the data-mining program that slurps up e-mail and phone data of American citizens. But what, exactly, is Snowden attempting to prove with his China revelations? That countries engage in espionage? That the United States listens in on communications of countries with which it maintains often tense and occasionally volatile relations?
The existence of electronic espionage seems to be his beef. In an interview with the South China Morning Post—in which he admitted that he took a job as a systems administrator with an N.S.A. consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton, for the purpose of stealing classified documents—Snowden laid out his bizarre and egomaniacal philosophy: he would decide what information to pass on in countries around the world.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.”
I’ll have to assume that Snowden is on this fit of self-righteous arrogance because he thinks there is something wrong with what he’s seen of United States surveillance in other countries. But to decide that standard espionage activities are improper is a foolish, ahistorical belief.
N.S.A. surveillance has been beneficial repeatedly in American foreign policy. Although most instances remain secret, we already know that the N.S.A. listened to Soviet pilots during the 1983 shooting down of a South Korean airliner; used intercepted diplomatic messages to track a 1986 Berlin disco bombing to Libya; and used the cell phones’ SIM cards to track terrorist suspects after the 9/11 attacks.
But let’s take a more important example. In 1937—at a time when the United States was declaring neutrality in the emerging global tensions that fueled World War II—the Japanese government created a cipher for its military messages using a device called the “97-shiki O-bun In-ji-ki.” The Americans code-named it “Purple.”
The United States military was able to intercept Japanese communications (the very reason that Tokyo needed a code) but couldn’t decrypt the information sent through the Purple machine. William Friedman, the first American cryptography expert who tried to break the code, made some progress before suffering a nervous breakdown. Using that initial information, others managed to break more of the code. Once cracked, the United States could track Japanese naval-troop movements and even intercepted communications containing plans for the Pearl Harbor attack—information that was not properly used.
Would Snowden have been outraged that the United States was intercepting Japanese data at a time when the countries were not at war? It took years to crack the Purple code—would Snowden think the United States should have waited until after Pearl Harbor to tap into Japanese communication lines, and only then begin the arduous effort to break the code? And if not, then what is his point in turning over these kinds of secrets to the Chinese? All I have to say is, thank God Snowden was not around in 1937, four years before the United States joined the war—Lord knows how many Americans would have died if he had acted with whatever arrogance, or self-righteousness, or narcissism, or pure treasonous beliefs that drove him to his espionage on behalf of the Chinese.
Now for a closer look at the specific details Snowden turned over. In trying to understand this, I reached out to an individual I know who spent much of a lifetime in the intelligence world, including some related to parts of Asia. While he specifically stated that nothing he discussed would be based on classified information, he was able to offer a number of educated explanations why the United States would be involved in the activities in China that Snowden revealed.
Take the actions involving Tsinghua University. There are many reasons the N.S.A. would be interested in communications and computer activities at this Beijing-based school. For example, beginning in the past decade or so, university programs on arms control have played an important role in the Chinese government’s efforts to administer export controls on sensitive items. (For those wishing to know more, this is well detailed in a book published by the Rand Corporation called Chasing the Dragon: Assessing China’s System of Export Controls for WMD-Related Goods and Technologies.) Now, perhaps the most prominent university program in China on arms control is at—you guessed it—Tsinghua University. So, do you think there might be a reason why the N.S.A. would want to know about any communications on arms control that might take place between the Chinese government and Tsinghua?
The importance of China in global arms-control issues is hard to understate, even in American negotiations with Russia over proposals on nuclear-arms reduction. As Richard Weitz, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Affairs at Hudson Institute, wrote last year:
China’s continued absence from strategic nuclear arms control negotiations is already impeding U.S.-Russian progress in this area. Beijing has traditionally resisted participating in formal nuclear arms control agreements. . . . Whereas U.S. officials want the next major nuclear arms reduction agreement to include only Russia and the United States, Russian negotiators want China and other nuclear weapons states to participate. In particular, Russian representatives insist they cannot reduce their major holdings of nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons without considering China’s growing military potential. Involving China in certain U.S.-Russian arms control processes could facilitate progress between Moscow and Washington in these areas and yield ancillary benefits for related issues.
Is this the reason for the N.S.A.’s activities at Tsinghua? My intel friend held it out as a good, educated guess, but then made a broader point. Contrary to the depictions in moviesthe N.S.A. does not engage in foreign surveillance as part of some James Bond–ian plot to take over the world. Decisions are based on the national-security needs of the United States. Actions at Tsinghua are not arbitrary; there is a national-security reason they are being done, whether about arms-control policies in China, something else altogether, or both.
As for the N.S.A. gaining access to Pacnet, the best answer is: no kidding. Snowden has expressed seeming outrage both at this and at the fact that Britain, through the Government Communications Headquarters, had tapped into undersea fiber-optic cables. Pacnet operatesEAC-C2C—the leading fiber-optic submarine cable network in Asia, connecting Hong Kong, China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and Singapore. In other words, international communications between Asian nations have a good chance of going through the Pacnet cables.
And, what apparently shocks Snowden but what any fool has known for years, the advent of fiber-optic technology has required the N.S.A. and other allied intelligence services to get into the business of cable-tapping. They had the choice: either tap cables or, in some fit of childish, Snowden-like horror at the demands of international security operations, surrender access to intelligence that the West has depended on for decades.
This problem was discussed in a top-secret, hush-hush, “no one can ever see it” public report by the Congressional Research Service on—get ready—January 16, 2001. This 12-year-old document explains not only the reason for expanded international surveillance, but also the need to tap cables:
In the past decade, two important trends have combined to change the nature of electronic surveillance efforts. The end of the Cold War meant policymakers and military officials had a wider range of countries that they were concerned with and placed much greater emphasis on “non-state actors”—terrorist groups and narcotics smuggling organizations that have come to be seen as genuine national security threats. These links are not necessarily easy targets given the great expansion in international telephone service that has grown by approximately 18% annually since 1992. Intelligence agencies are faced with profound “needle-in-a-haystack” challenges; it being estimated that in 1997 there were some 82 billion minutes of telephone service worldwide. The technologies used in civilian communications circuits have also changed; in the past decade reliance on microwave transmissions (which can be intercepted with relative efficiency) has been increasingly displaced by fiber optic cables. Fiber optics can carry far more circuits with greater clarity and through longer distances and provides the greater bandwidth necessary for transmitting the enormous quantities of data commonplace in the Internet age. Inevitably, fiber optic transmissions present major challenges to electronic surveillance efforts as their contents cannot be readily intercepted, at least without direct access to the cables themselves.
Please note, this document is pre-9/11, from a government analytical group outside of the intelligence agencies, discussing the need to tap cables for the purpose of aiding in the surveillance of terrorist groups and narcotics smugglers. (Asia, anyone?) This is not some excuse for what was done in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington.
But the most important sentence in this report is this: Intelligence agencies are faced with profound “needle-in-a-haystack” challenges. And that is the point of all of this Snowden-esque controversy. In the past, it was comparatively easy to snap up national-security intel—set up a microwave interception system targeting Soviet officials and agents, or some such. America could identify those who posed the national-security threat. Now, not so much.
To hunt for needles, the N.S.A. needs a global haystack that can be used for data mining. That is what the data collection is all about; no one has any interest in listening in on innocuous calls or reading pointless e-mails. This is all about using computers—massive, massive computers—and using complex models and algorithms to find the needles, rather than hoping to guess how to keep Americans safe, just in case the Ed Snowdens of the world might get upset with more intelligent approaches.
Which brings us back to Snowden’s global hypocrisy tour. I think nothing has more thoroughly damaged Snowden’s “whistle-blower” persona than his bizarre—and, I would say, cowardly—decision to rely on some of the countries with the greatest history of oppression to help keep him out of the Americans’ hands. (Usually, when people engage in civil disobedience for a cause—which Snowden seems to want people to believe he is doing—they accept the punishment that will accompany their decision. Snowden, instead, has acted like a spy, fleeing to countries with deeply strained relationships with the United States.
The irony of someone purportedly dedicated to privacy and human rights aiding the Chinese government grew even starker while Snowden was in Hong Kong. Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning a massive surveillance campaign undertaken by the Chinese government in Tibetan villages, which results in political re-education of those who may question the Communist regime and the establishment of partisan security units. “These tactics discriminate against those perceived as potentially disloyal, and restrict their freedom of religion and opinion,” Human Rights Watch wrote.
But hey, that’s just real life, not the Internet privacy that concerns Snowden. And, of course, the level of the Chinese government’s surveillance and control of their citizens’ use of the Internet is almost an art form. Just six months agoChina’s legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, adopted the “Decision to Strengthen the Protection of Online Information.” The new rules, which Human Rights Watch says “threaten security and privacy of internet users,” require telecommunications providers to collect reams of personal information about customers who sign up for Internet, landline, or cell-phone service. The law also requires for the providers to insure they have the ability to immediately identify the real names of people who post comments under pseudonyms. Guess why? “In the days following the decision,’’ Human Rights Watch reported, “several well-known online activists found that theirweibo micro-blogging accounts had been shut down.’’
As for Russia, the crackdown on public activism has intensified in recent months, which, again, has led to Human Rights Watch issuing a report just a few weeks before Snowden landed in Moscow. “The crackdown is threatening civil society,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU has spoken out strongly in recent months, but now is the time to directly call on Russia’s leadership to revise restrictive laws and stop the harassment of independent groups.” Primarily, the Russians are going after hundreds of rights groups and related activist organizations as part of a massive campaign to force them to register as foreign agents. “The authorities are seeking to define ‘political’ so broadly as to make any involvement in public life that is not controlled by the government off-limits,” Williamson said. “They are also trying to tarnish groups with the ‘foreign agents’ label, which in Russia can only mean ‘spy.’”

And what about Ecuador? Why, just two weeks ago, this country that is apparently on Snowden’s list of possible future homes passed new rules that impede free expression. The statute, called the Communications Law, prohibits anyone from disseminating information through the media that might undermine the prestige or credibility of a person or institution (you know, like revealing a government-sponsored surveillance program). The law also places burdens on journalists, making them subject to civil or criminal penalties for publishing information that serves to undermine the security of the state (you know, like revealing a government-sponsored surveillance program).
The takeaway from all of this is perplexing. Perhaps Snowden is so impaired by his tunnel vision about America’s espionage techniques that he doesn’t understand he has made himself an international fool by cozying up to some of the world’s less-admirable regimes on issues of human rights. And there is another thing to bear in mind: Since Snowden seems keen on turning over secret American information to repressive governments, will he be, in the end, acting to aid that repression? Will whatever information he yields be the missing thread that these authoritarian governments need to oppress their citizens more?
I don’t know. Neither do you. And, in the most horrible reality of all, neither does Edward Snowden.

Issa directed Treasury inspector general to ignore IRS treatment of liberal groups

By Eric W. Dolan/Raw Story
The bombshell IRS audit released in May omitted information about liberal groups at the request of House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s office.
A spokesman for Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George told The Hill on Tuesday that Issa had requested investigators “narrowly focus on tea party organizations.”
The subsequent audit concluded the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to single out for additional scrutiny tea party groups that applied for tax exempt status. The findings lead almost every politician, including President Barack Obama, to denounce the IRS. Several Republicanssuggested the audit indicated the White House had a Nixonian “enemies list.”
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Issa said the IRS appeared to have been targeting Obama’s political opponents “perhaps not on his request” but “on his behalf.”
But new documents have revealed that liberal and progressive groups received similar treatment from the IRS. The “inappropriate criteria” used to single out tea party groups — so-called “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) memos — also singled out progressive and “Occupy” groups.
“We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit,” the Treasury inspector general spokesman told The Hill.
The BOLO memos stated tax exempt status for progressive groups “may not be appropriate” because they were engaged in “anti-Republican” political activity. On the other hand, the BOLO memos only directed IRS employees to send tea party applications to a particular group. IRS officials have said the tea party applications were “centralized” to insure they received consistent treatment. Exactly how the BOLO memos were used remains unclear.
The report identified 298 groups that were subjected to additional scrutiny, and identified 98 of those groups as either tea party, patriot or 9/12 groups. The remaining 202 groups were labelled as “other.” During congressional hearings, George was repeatedly asked if these 202 “other” groups included liberal organizations. He said he couldn’t “make that determination” based on the available evidence. However, several liberal groups received the same level of IRS scrutinyas tea party groups.
The omitted information has caused Democrats to question whether the audit was truthful.
“Failing to make this clear in these documents and at Congressional Hearings even when asked directly has been fully misleading,” Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) wrote in a letter to George on Wednesday. “It has contributed to the distortion of this entire investigation, including use of innuendo and totally unsubstantiated assertions of White House involvement.”
The Associated Press on Wednesday confirmed that liberal and progressive groups were subjected the same treatment that conservative groups had complained about, including excessive questioning and extremely long waits. The liberal group Catholics United, for instance, waited seven years before receiving tax exempt status, far longer than any tea party group was forced to wait.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s office has continued to defend its audit of the IRS. Karen Kraushaar told the Associated Press that the inspector general was only “asked to look at the treatment of organizations known to be affiliated with the tea party in its review, and was asked to audit the way those organizations were being treated when they applied for tax-exempt status.”
Kraushaar implied information regarding liberal and progressive groups was omitted simply because of the narrow scope of the audit.
House Republicans have denied they attempted to limit the audit of the IRS. They acknowledged they requested the audit based off complaints they received from tea party groups, but that should not have prevented investigators from mentioning the impact on other effected groups. A Republican aide told The Hill that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration had “the authority to look at whatever they wanted to, and would be expected to do so if there was wrongdoing.”
Issa had previously released excerpts from a congressional investigation that purportedly proved the “targeting of conservative political groups came from Washington, D.C.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) later released the full transcripts to show there was no evidence the Obama administration was involved.