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Longwood Gardens. Photos by joanneleon. January, 2013









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Human Rights Watch:

US: Zero Dark Thirty and the Truth About Torture

The movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Osama bin Laden, wrongly suggests that torture was an ugly but useful tacticin the fight against terrorism. It also falsely implies that information obtained through torture was critical to finding bin Laden. As the film-makers note, it is a fictionalized account, not a documentary. The use of torture violates US law and the country’s international legal obligations – even when “authorized” by the US government.  Its use damaged the reputation of the United States and its ability to promote human rights, while giving cover to abusers worldwide who use such techniques against political opponents and activists. Torture was counter-productive to the fight against terrorism, producing false and misleading information that may in fact have slowed the search for bin Laden and diverted attention from genuine security threats.


4) The US should reveal the full scope and nature of US government torture. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently adopted a 6,000-page classified report detailing the program. The committee should seek declassification and release of the report, and the Obama administration should support that.

NYT profile of John Kiriakou: first CIA officer to face prison for classified leak

A long-read you may have missed in the New York Times by Scott Shane, on the story of John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst and case officer who is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 25 to 30 months in prison for leaking classified government info to a reporter. With this sentencing, the Obama administration reaffirms its role as one of the most staunchly anti-leak administrations in history.

Leaks! Torture! Drones! Obama’s CIA Pick Faces Skeptical Senators

The chances are high — astronomically high — that the Senate will confirm John Brennan’s nomination as the CIA director. But Brennan may face tougher-than-expected questions from the senators on everything from drones to torture to leaks that exposed one of America’s only undercover agents in al-Qaida.

As perhaps the President’s most important national security aide, Brennan has been a key general in the shadow wars that the U.S. has been fighting around the globe during the first Obama administration. He’s also been in a position to disclose secrets surrounding those espionage, sabotage and paramilitary operations. And many of those secrets have in recent months leaked out into the public.

Of particular concern to some intelligence committee senators is a teleconference that Brennan held with TV counterterror pundits on May 7, after the U.S. foiled an attempt by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate an underwear bomb. According to Reuters, Brennan said during the call that the attack was never a major threat, because the U.S. had “inside control” over the plot. Commentators took that to mean that the American government had a double agent within the terror group, and talked about a likely U.S. mole on television. That effectively ended what was arguably the most successful human intelligence operation against al-Qaida in 11 years since 9/11. The double agent had to be pulled from the terrorists’ ranks.

"Failure of Epic Proportions": Treasury Nominee Jack Lew’s Pro-Bank, Austerity, Deregulation Legacy

Former bank regulator William Black and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi join us to dissect the career of Jack Lew, President Obama’s pick to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither. Currently Obama’s chief of staff, Lew was an executive at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008 at the time of the financial crisis. He backed financial deregulation efforts while he headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton. During that time, Clinton enacted two key laws to deregulate Wall Street: the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Black, a white-collar criminologist and former senior financial regulator, is the author of "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." A contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine, Taibbi is the author of "Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History." [includes rush transcript]

Songs of War
We follow a Sesame Street composer as he learns how his music has been used to torture detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Human rights researcher Thomas Keenan explains: "Prisoners were forced to put on headphones. They were attached to chairs, headphones were attached to their heads, and they were left alone just with the music for very long periods of time. Sometimes hours, even days on end, listening to repeated loud music."
Stunned by this abuse of his work, Cerf was motivated to find out more about how it could happen.

Facial recognition enabled binoculars

I recently wrote about how the FBI is expanding its face recognition programs and working with state and local law enforcement to help develop their biometric monitoring capabilities.

While doing research for that blog I came upon an interesting piece of technology, developed with the help of federal grant monies.
Technologies like these make it possible for government agents to not only surreptitiously monitor you from a distance, but also to identify you using face recognition technology that is actually built in to the binoculars.

I've said before that our party is becoming the party of Orwell.  And that's no Red State sentiment, it's the sentiment of people like myself who remember what things were like before this party nearly completely sold its soul.

Use FDR'S Grandson To Cut Social Security? Just Plain Evil
What a too-slick, amoral PR move this would be, for the Obama administration to select FDR's grandson to head the Social Security Administration -- because he's a highly-paid insurance CEO ($1.7 million last year) who (of course!) supports Social Security cuts. Why, I can just see the shameless and misleading ads now:
The Boston Globe reports this morning that Tufts Health Plan chief executive James Roosevelt Jr. is being considered for the Obama administration’s nomination to head the Social Security Administration.

Last May, he wrote an op-ed with Robert L. Reynolds, a Republican and CEO of Putnam Investments, where he advocates for raising the Social Security retirement age at a brisker pace as well as cutting back the growth of benefits with a different Consumer Price Index (CPI)

I'm putting this piece in here but I personally don't agree with it.  
The Left Flank
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has taken on the role of liberal gatekeeper—trying to goad Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo away from the Democratic center.

Eliot Spitzer is at heart a prosecutor. Andrew Cuomo is a pol. Eric Schneiderman shares some qualities with each of his immediate predecessors as state attorney general—but Schneiderman’s core is quite different. He has the soul of an activist—he sees himself as a movement progressive. And halfway through his term as A.G., Schneiderman, 58, has become New York’s definitive liberal, using the national prominence his predecessors brought to the office to try to yank an increasingly centrist Democratic Party back toward its progressive roots. He’s become a gatekeeper for the left.

Schneiderman carved out his new role by taking on the president. In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration was crafting a settlement with the banking industry to resolve claims resulting from dubious foreclosure practices after the collapse of the housing market. The deal, however, needed the support of the 50 state attorneys general. Schneiderman balked, calling it a giveaway to Wall Street, and led a drive to toughen the penalties. Last January, the administration compromised, increasing the industry’s payment to homeowners by billions and preserving a broader ability to sue over the causes of the crisis. The White House also created an investigative task force with Schneiderman in charge, and gave New York’s A.G. a prime seat behind Michelle Obama at the 2012 State of the Union address. Cutting a more generous mortgage deal with Schneiderman helped protect the president’s left flank just as he headed into a tough reelection year. Schneiderman was suddenly a darling of the national left, a cover boy for The American Prospect, and a favorite guest on MSNBC.

His newest good-government initiative is probing the “dark money” groups that flooded the 2012 elections with cash—the threat of “bought” elections being an especially popular liberal cause. Schneiderman’s cred with the left is so solid that he has made himself an indispensable progressive validator, a stature that may result in an ironic political twist closer to home. Lately, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been under attack by liberals, just as his 2016 presidential prospects heat up. “Those on the left and in liberal circles that have questions about Andrew will certainly be watching for any kind of signal from Schneiderman,” the Reverend Al Sharpton says. And that may be an interesting drama, because both were raised in the playground of progressive New York politics, but Eric Schneiderman and Andrew Cuomo haven’t grown up to be the best of friends.

This young man was not much older than my sons and in fact he reminds me a lot of one of my sons.  I didn't know him, but I wish that I had.  I wish that we'd done something to try to call off the witch hunt by the U.S. attorney and the Department of Justice, not that they'd ever listen to us.  He was facing up to 50 years in jail, $4 million in fines, $1.5 million to defend himself in federal court.  Yet the people who tortured, who ordered others to torture, who designed torture programs are scot free. Some of them are even making money from their involvment in the torture programs, like Rodriguez who destroyed the evidence. Some are being promoted to some of the highest positions of power in the world, like John Brennan who advocated and defended the torture program.  But in the era of Obama, the whistleblowers, the hackers, the activists, the journalists are hunted down and prosecuted, not the biggest criminals who ruin people's lives, the war criminals, the thieves who destroy economies.  This is our president's and his cronies' idea of justice.
Internet activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide

Swartz was 26.

Police had arrested Swartz in July 2011. He was accused of stealing 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. The authorities claimed that he broke into a restricted-access computer wiring closet at MIT and accessed that network without authorization.
News of Swartz's suicide came only days after Jstor announced this week that it would make "more than 4.5 million articles" publicly available for free.

A couple of years ago, Swartz sold a company he founded called Infogami to Reddit. He was also the founder of the nonprofit group Demand Progress, which was active in the anti-SOPA battle.

RIP Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz (by Rick Perlstein)

How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure corruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an "RSS feed" and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called "an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge"—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, twenty years old?


I think about how I'm able to pull together a sort of timeline of our encounters together—the time we went to the Newberry Library, a time a year ago we sat for coffee and he gave me relationship advice (yes: he had a body), the month-long computer hiatus—because smart, dedicated people like worked very hard, often with no thought of personal profit or gain, making ours a world of useful data, making data useful, making it possible to have a record of the world as it goes by, making the world more meaningful by making data more human and shapable and direction-ful. He was one of those people: one of the best.

Prosecutor as bully (by Lawrence Lessig)

Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

One word, and endless tears.

The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”

I was the expert witness on Aaron’s side of US vs Swartz, engaged by his attorneys last year to help prepare a defense for his April trial. Until Keker Van Nest called iSEC Partners I had very little knowledge of Aaron’s plight, and although we have spoken at or attended many of the same events we had never once met.

If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper. It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence.

Professor Lessig will always write more eloquently than I can on prosecutorial discretion and responsibility, but I certainly agree that Aaron’s death demands a great deal of soul searching by the US Attorney who decided to massively overcharge this young man and the MIT administrators who decided to involve Federal law enforcement.

Comment by Lambert Strether
"Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz's of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street's youngest investment banker, he would be alive today."

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Evening Blues



Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?

Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.

Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."  ~ Noam Chomsky

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