The National Security Agency has a friend at the Harvard Law School. And at the Brookings Institution. And at The New Republic. And the Washington Post.
Benjamin Wittes, who is not a lawyer, is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, where he is "Research Director in Public Law, and Co-Director of the Harvard Law School-Brookings Project on Law and Security." He also has a web site, Lawfare, where he's been blogging on the report on the abuses of the National Security Agency just out from the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies, in terms highly favorable to the super-secretive and media-shy agency. He also enjoys extraordinary access to the NSA, for instance in this series of podcasts with their top officials. ("We Brought In a Recoding Device So You Don't Have To," the series is entitled: cute!)
Why is Lawfare the NSA's media portal of choice? Well, consider this. Lawfare, in turn, partners with The New Republic, where this post was was republished in its entirety. The joint Lawfare/TNR project is entitled "Security States," and it is sponsored, Wittes proudly notes, by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. Grumman, in turn, is a major NSA contractor—see this $220 million deal they scored with the NSA "to develop an advanced information management and data storage system that will support efforts to modernize the nation's electronic intelligence and broader signals intelligence capabilities," a fact TNR does not disclose to its readers.
And the NSA is apparently well-pleased with the arrangement. "Check out Lawfare's interview with NSA's acting Deputy Director Fran Fleisch," they tweeted today, one of the NSA's public affairs office's six breathless tweets booming "Lawfare" over the past five days. Surely they also enjoy the laundering of the content of "the indispensable Lawfare blog" through the Washington Post, courtesy of their hack right-wing blogger Jennifer Rubin. ("The NSA will falter unless Obama does his job.")
Meanwhile, Wittes's Lawfare co-blogger Jack Goldsmith, late of George W. Bush's Pentagon and Justice Department, is a professor at the Harvard Law School, but does not disclose any conflict of interest, as most Harvard Law professors do, for being part of such a project sponsored by a commercial entity.
Let's hear from Professor Goldsmith as to whether he is paid by Northrop for his posts at Lawfare, and whether he thinks he has disclosed that to his Harvard employers, and whether he should make the arrangement public. Let's hear from The New Republic. Why are they taking money from an NSA contractor to run defenses of the NSA? I'll be sending this post straightaway to TNR editor Franklin Foer, an old friend. And I'll email it too Professor Goldsmith, too. I'll let you know what they say.
Read Next: What should the media learn from Edward Snowden?
The Federal Reserve has always been a very masculine institution. In economic affairs, the Fed chairman resembles the stern father figure who disciplines the children and occasionally punishes them for unruly behavior. Only now, for the first time in its 100-year history, the Federal Reserve will be led by a woman—Janet Yellen. But will that make any difference?
In this era of gender equality, the polite answer is, no, a woman in charge of this powerful institution will do pretty much what any man would do in the same circumstances. I devoutly hope not. The confirmation of Janet Yellen as Fed chair raises intriguing possibilities for altering the operating values of the central bank and broadening its obligations to the country. Isn’t that what makes “old boys” of Wall Street nervous? Yellen, of course, is obliged to dismiss the question. Like any woman who manages to break through the glass ceiling, she has to bring superior technical skills and an impressive resume in central banking. Yellen has both—and a reputation for thinking beyond narrow-minded traditions in economics.
Monetary policy, in other words, is a feminist issue, though in ways that may not be obvious at first. At a very deep level, girls learn to see some things differently from boys, and in Fed policy-making this can put women at odds with men. I witnessed this cultural tension in real personal terms at the Federal Reserve during the 1980s when Paul Volcker was chairman and described it in Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (1987).
Listen to how Federal Reserve Governor Nancy Teeters—the very first woman to hold that title—described the experience. Teeters was appointed in 1978 by Jimmy Carter and served during Volcker’s dramatic campaign to defuse inflation with a long and brutal recession. Teeters dissented in meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee as Volcker persisted with the blood-letting. She was politely ignored. Her strong talk irritated the boys.
“I gave the FOMC a lecture,” Teeters told me. “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.'” The metaphor, she pointed out to me, was one only a woman might use. “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life,” Teeters said.
Her opposition was not sentimental. As a professional economist, she argued that Volcker’s harsh policy was extreme and unnecessary. “It was very difficult for me philosophically to run the unemployment rate [which reached 12 percent],” Teeters said. “It was perfectly obvious to me we didn’t need to put interest rates up that high. We couldn’t do it without a recession, but recession is still a difficult decision to make. People get hurt. All sorts of nasty things can happen if it gets out of hand.” Which happened. The financial system became so frayed Volcker had to back off.
Teeters acknowledged frankly what most men would never admit. “I was scared and so was everybody else,” she said. Some of her colleagues resented her frankness. One complained, “She never said ‘we.’ She always addressed the other committee members as ‘you.’ ‘If you do this, you’re going to have worse unemployment.’ She was very consciously the outsider.” In practical terms, she truly was an outsider. When Teeters joined the Board of Governors, she found only two women in senior-grade positions.
Behind her back, the male-dominated orthodoxy disparaged Teeters as too liberal, but Governor Martha Seger, a conservative Republican who served after Teeters retired, was left isolated, too. Seger, too, dissented from Volcker’s unrelenting interest rates that kept unemployment higher even after the economy recovered. Seger told me she felt cut out of any policy discussions that mattered. “We have very little input into what I call the formulation stage, which I’m not accustomed to,” she said. “In corporate America, there is input all along the line.”
The differences in reasoning between girls and boys were examined as “gender-related moral differences” by Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan in her best-selling book, In a Different Voice. Women, Gilligan explained, will usually seek to avoid “the fracture of human relationships that must be mended with its own thread.”
It is striking that Nancy Teeters and Carol Gilligan both used the same metaphor—the torn “social fabric”—to explain what makes girls different. Gilligan argued the society needs sensibilities that make equal space for what women know. “Sensibility to the needs of others and the assumption of responsibility for taking care lead women to attend to voices other than their own and to include in their judgment other points of view,” Gilligan explained.
Achieving that standard would pose a high challenge, not just for the Federal Reserve, but for the entire governing system. A lot of progress has been accomplished since the eighties, both in society and government. Hey, a forward-leaning woman named Yellen is now running the Fed. Maybe Yellen can take that powerful place further down the road to equality.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on the NSA's bad week.
1. As Professor Gets Punished for Teaching About Race, Students Mobilize
This month, I have been a part of a broad coalition of students, artists, activists, teachers, professors, union leaders and community members who are organizing resistance to the sexist, racist and classist collegiate structures in Minnesota. This group was catalyzed by the position that Minneapolis Community and Technical College took in reprimanding Professor Shannon Gibney when two white male students complained about their discomfort during a lesson she was teaching on structural racism. We find it deplorable, albeit unsurprising, that institutions like MCTC have chosen to emphasize the comfort of white male students in lessons on structural racism, and we refuse to stand for it. Our coalition is planning direct action not only to defend Professor Gibney, but to seek structural accountability in these institutions while envisioning new spaces and relationships in higher education.
2. After Students of Color Sit-In, UCLA Investigates
On November 14, a group of 25 students at UCLA, collectively known as UCLA Call 2 Action: Graduate Students of Color, held an open teach-in during a member’s mock dissertation presentation in a graduate course in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. During the teach-in, participants shared important texts written by scholars of color and recounted painful and moving accounts of racism, sexism and heterosexism within the department. The participants urged departmental leaders to consider and extend the implications of the Moreno Report to the experiences of students of color at UCLA. Immediately following the teach-in, the professor of the class circulated an email to colleagues denouncing the action and insinuating that the students of color in his class staged a “protest” principally because, as poor writers, they were unwilling to accept his grammatical corrections—despite the fact that they all have received high marks on written work and did not raise his grammar corrections as cause for concern. He also forwarded his email, without the knowledge of departmental leadership, to various media sources, prompting a barrage of hateful and racialized messages directed at his students. GSE&IS leadership has commissioned a faculty committee to consider racial discrimination across the school. The Call 2 Action group is working with school leadership to organize a series of town halls beginning in January 2014.
—Call 2 Action: UCLA Graduate Students of Color
On December 16, five immigrant youth and allies blocked the main entrance of the downtown Los Angeles detention center, protesting the close to two million deportations at the hands of President Obama. The action was part of a national #not1more campaign—from New Jersey, to Philadelphia, to Virginia and beyond—to grant administrative relief, like Deferred Action, for all 11 million undocumented people in the country. Los Angeles County has been responsible for deporting more people than even the controversial Maricopa County in Arizona. California immigrant youth are preparing similar actions across the state to pressure the Obama administration. At the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, our vision is to partner with other youth of color to target for-profit companies that run the nation's prisons and detention centers, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.
On December 17, #NotYourAsianSidekick took off. Everyone from young girls, to Asian men, to white people, to my women of color sisters joined the conversation to discuss Third World unity, youth empowered movement, the death of the ally-industrial complex, dismantling anti-blackness in Asian-American circles, dismantling the state, multi-racial and bi-racial issues, immigration issues, generational issues, health disparities, interfaith issues, queer AAPI people, disability and patriarchy. Our goal was, and is, to create a third space for Asian-American feminism where women of color can be in solidarity rather than fighting for a seat at the table with white, capitalist America.
5. At UMass, Students Fight for Representation
At the University of Massachusetts, students have been making a greater push for increased voting power on the board of trustees. Students from the Student Government Association and the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy have organized to support H.1088 and S.580, which would give all five student trustees voting power. When student trustees first starting serving the board in 1863, they each had a vote. But as more schools were added to the system, more voting student trustees were not. While the votes do rotate annually school-by-school, each year three schools are not represented on the board, hindering students on their respective campus. Last year, for example, UMass-Lowell didn't have the voting power to maintain a financing system that allowed students to run an account balance of $3,000 before enrolling in classes. The board's decisions range from tuition, master plans and other issues pertinent to academics and campus culture—which differs vastly between residential schools like UMass-Amherst to commuter campuses like UMass-Boston.
6. At Cooper Union, Freedom Hits the Board
As the result of Cooper Union students' 65-day occupation of our president's office, the Board of Trustees agreed to include a student trustee, and to mentor a "working group," charged with finding an alternative to tuition. As the group met regularly over this past semester, the Board of Trustees demonstrated a persistent and alarming disregard for the students’ ability to organize, govern and look out for themselves. In addition to impeding and threatening to cancel the students' elections for the (non-voting) student trustee, the board blocked a proposal from the architecture school to raise money to cover future tuition bills, and tried to introduce a new code of conduct that would take power away from students' ability to engage in direct action. The Board met on December 10 to discuss the working group's report, but will not make a final decision for 30 days. We hope that with a new chairman leading the board and with our new student trustee, the board will be able to find an alternative to charging tuition, but this will require a dramatic shift in the way that the board views both the students and Cooper Union.
7. Hoodies Up
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice is a national organization working to protect and empower young people of color from racial profiling and senseless gun violence through creativity and innovation. Million Hoodies was formed in 2012 after a video which helped generate global support for the arrest of George Zimmerman. We are now calling for young people interested in putting an end to gun violence and racial profiling through direct action organizing, creative technologies and communications to join our network. In 2014, we'll be working on divestment campaigns from gun manufacturers and look to confront Stand Your Ground laws.
8. Zero Tolerance Out
On January 1, twelve years of harsh discipline practices that disproportionately impact students of color, and the creation of a pipeline to incarceration and unemployment instead of college and careers, will come to end—not because of newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio alone, but because of the powerful work of youth, who continue to organize to dismantle the pipeline to prison. In November, the Urban Youth Collaborative organized a Talking Transition Tent event to offer the de Blasio Transition Team solutions to end the criminalization of students and the over-policing of our schools. We are committed to working with the mayor and the next schools chancellor to end discriminatory discipline and push for restorative justice and social and emotional supports in schools. In the first 100 days of his administration, we are pushing for Mayor de Blasio to end suspensions for "defying authority," revise the current Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Education and NYPD to limit the ability of police to handcuff students for minor misbehavior and expand restorative justice programs. In January, UYC is launching our statewide legislative campaign, pushing to allocate $20 million to fund restorative justice programs, limit the use of out-of-school suspensions and hold schools districts across the state accountable. As students, we belong in the classroom, not jail cells.
—Urban Youth Collaborative
9. How Long Will School-Sponsored Apartheid Last?
As a result of the campaign led by Students Against Israeli Apartheid, on December 19, George Mason University will accommodate graduates, faculty and guests to walk out in protest of this year’s commencement speaker, Shari Arison. While Arison comes to Mason to promote her purported ethical business model, a joint faculty-alumni letter exposes her portfolio as being anything but ethical—financing illegal settlements, building a portion of the apartheid wall and building a highway that denies access to those of non-Jewish descent. As the letter circulated, initiating conversations throughout the university, SAIA members plastered the campus with posters exposing Arison's investment priorities. Additionally, SAIA conducted a satirical social media campaign that seized the university’s rebranding hashtag, forcing them into inactivity. A mock apartheid wall was erected in our quad displaying the message, “NO HONOR IN APARTHEID,” and featuring a large poster asking, “Who will Mason Honor Next?” surrounded by photos of other dishonorable figures, including Ray Kelly and David Petraeus.
10. Who’s Next on the Safety Accord?
On December 5, UPenn’s Student Labor Action Project, an affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops, won its End Deathtraps campaign. UPenn is the first school in the country to mandate that its apparel licensees sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. After building support around campus—hosting vigils and teach-ins, speaking to classes, meeting with our Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility and circulating a petition—SLAP convinced UPenn’s president Amy Gutmann to demand that brands prioritize worker safety. The Rana Plaza and Tazreen factory fires put in question the destructive conditions of the garment industry. In response to the efforts of garment workers and student solidarity, our universities are helping realize an industry that heeds the demands of workers.
My Nation column, “China Goes Dark,” is kind of about Apple’s labor exploitation and kind of about “Hard-hitting New York Times coverage has been journalism at its best—although the Chinese authorities apparently don't agree.” I suppose it’ll be behind a paywall for a few more days but it’s here, if you remember to click when it’s not.
In the meantime, there’s this: “Worse still is the continued employment of The Nation columnist Eric Alterman..."
Also, I have an ide for a new slogan for the ASA and the rest of the BDS mob: “BDS: More Palestinian than the Palestinians...”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put together a sixteen piece band to play songs you did not know were jazz--incluing “Jingle Bells” “Little Drummer Boy” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The songs were arranged by various members of the Orchestra and introduced with his unique aplomb and charm by Mr. Marsalis. The highlights all involved the appearance of 23-year-old 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose charms I do not believe were captured on her cd, and so I’ve resisted her but her versatility and pitch-perfect delivery --as the pr material says, her “ability to refract the styles of such iconic performers of that era as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Valaida Snow with 21st century freshness, expressivity, and soulfulness”--really shook up the place and made it a most memorable, if somewhat brief performance. The schedule is here.
I’ve also been spending time with Mosaic Records’ “The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions” Jordan worked as a sideman with Mingus, Max Roach, Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver and Randy Weston sometimes eclipsed his own brilliance as a leader. He was also well-known in the jazz world as a discoverer of emerging artistry and as a talented producer. This package--which lives up to Mosaic’s unequaled reputation for both scholarly and acoustic excellence, documents every aspect of his under publicized career. It’s a six cd set that includes his two best-known albums, 1969's In the World features Julian Priester, Wynton Kelly and Wilbur Ware, with Don Cherry and Albert 'Tootie' Heath alternating with Kenny Dorham, Ed Blackwell and Roy Haynes on two tracks each. Glass Bead Games (1973) features the fiery tenorman with two separate rhythm sections: Stanley Cowell, Bill Lee and Billy Higgins; and Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins. But we aslo get Zodiac: The Music of Cecil Payne, accompanied by Dorham, Kelly, Ware and Heath, Charles Brackeen's Rhythm X (1968) with Cherry, Charlie Haden and Blackwell on four Brackeen originals. Cherry and Blackwell can also be heard on Wilbur Ware's Super Bass, with Jordan on tenor. Next comes Shades of Edward Blackwell, available here for the very first time. Recorded in 1968, this was Blackwell's first recording as a and features Cherry, Ware and the under-recorded tenorman Luqman Lateef on two Blackwell originals. The second has Ornette Coleman alumni, Billy Higgins and Dennis Charles, along with Roger Blank, Huss Charles and Jordan again. Finally, we get Pharoah Sanders' 1969, Izipho Zam rounds out the set with its 30 minute title cult , with vocalist Leon Thomas, and joined on various cuts Sonny Fortune, Howard Johnson, Lonnie Liston Smith, Sonny Sharrock, Cecil McBee, Sirone, and a drum ensemble of Billy Hart, Majeed Shabazz, Chief Bey, Nat Bettis and Tony Wylie. An embarrassment of riches, really, and it’s only really imaginable from Mosaic. (Terrific liner notes too, of course, with photos.) More Mosaic here, (and check out the incredible Art Tatum....)
What the press should learn from the “Snowden effect”
by Reed Richardson
Everyone’s familiar with the old zen koan: If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? In a way, the same existential question lies at the heart of our modern news profession: If a big story lands on the front page but nobody else notices, was it really journalism?
Flash back three years to the summer of 2010, when the Washington Post published its breathtakingly detailed, two years in the making “Top Secret America” project. In it, reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin portrayed a vast, metastasizing national security state obsessed with classifying secrets, broadening its power, and increasingly reliant on private contractors. The front-page stories ran on three consecutive days in July. But by September, updates to the Post’s specially created “TSA” blog stopped coming. A fourth and final story installment—presciently titled “Monitoring America”—arrived somewhat inexplicably in late December, just days before Christmas. Almost nine months later, Frontline broadcast an hour-long documentary to complement the pair’s reporting, timed to run with the publication of a book about “Top Secret America.” Nevertheless, the White House, Congress, and the national security establishment all pretty much shrugged off the whole thing. But it was outstanding journalism. Or was it?
Then there was Reuters, which published last month the second half of a piercing two-part exposé about rampant waste in the Defense Dept. budget. If you missed it, or the first installment, which ran back in July, you weren’t alone. Despite the numerous examples of outrageous conduct unearthed, there’s been no concomitant public debate or calls for a governmental investigation into how much our nation really spends on the military and what we get (or, more to the point, don’t get) for our money. In fact, the Ryan-Murray budget deal that just passed Congress restored almost every DoD dollar cut by the sequester. Still, excellent journalism, right? Right?
My point here is not to diminish the journalism and journalists above as much as it is to offer up those examples as cautionary tales. In-depth accountability journalism doesn’t always make an impact (for reasons I’ll get to later.) Which is why the ongoing blowback of the NSA spying revelations leaked by Edward Snowden—the“Snowden effect”—are so remarkable. Whether or not you classify Snowden as a hero or a traitor, or something in between, one can’t deny his actions have sparked a debate about the intersection of national security and individual privacy that we weren’t having six months ago, but should have been. That, in a democracy dependent upon consent of the governed and oversight of their duly elected representatives, can’t help but be a positive development. Likewise, to witness an original author of the Patriot Act, a seminal piece of government overreach if ever there was one, change course and advocate legislation rolling back the NSA’s power is still hard to fathom. And to have predicted, back in June, that by the end of the year, both a federal judge—appointed by George W. Bush, no less—and a White House-appointed review panel would offer a sweeping, excoriating rebuke to the intelligence community status quo would have been laughable.
However, the Snowden revelations and their subsequent publication haven’t just had an impact on issues of privacy and national security. They’ve also occasioned a re-awakening of a debate about the role of journalism (and journalists) in a democracy and its relationship to authority. As the lead reporter whom Snowden has entrusted with his massive trove of stolen secrets, former Guardian columnist/reporter Glenn Greenwald has come to personify this new breed of independent-minded, advocacy journalist. He’s endured some clumsysmear attempts as well as a share of fair criticism of his reporting, but it’s hard to quantify how fully his lightning-rod persona has become fused to the larger discussion of the merits of “objective” versus “advocacy” journalism. On Twitter, as is often the case, these discussions have unfortunately devolved further into competing “teams,” either pro- or anti-Greenwald. Set aside all the hashtag vitriol, though, and you find that the Snowden effect precipitated this bracing debate between Greenwald and former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller that every journalist should read and think about, no matter what side you come down on.
To say, as his critics do, Greenwald merely got lucky that Snowden chose him for what might the biggest leak of all time is a mistake, though. Just as it is a mistake for those who might have legitimate critiques of a journalist’s portrayal of intelligence operations to lapse into old-fashioned, insider-y rank-pulling instead of honest engagement. Greenwald’s reputation as someone with an unabashed adversarial approach to covering government no doubt fit the profile Snowden sought for someone who would distill, curate, and aggressively report the secrets he’d taken. It was no coincidence, then, that Snowden—and, before him, Pfc. Chelsea Manning—choose to leak everything he had to Greenwald instead of a major U.S. news organization, many of whom have on numerous occasions been too easily talked out of publishing stories by our government.
We’ll never know for sure how, say, the Times or the Post might have handled being the sole guardian of Snowden’s secrets. The enormous size and egregious nature of his revelations might well have led us to the same point we are at today, regardless of whose byline and masthead ran above them. I’m a bit skeptical, though. The multi-faceted, transnational nature of Snowden’s leaks seem to have necessitated exactly the kind of steady stream of multi-platform reports and foreign news partnerships that Greenwald has forged. Would an establishment media company like the Times have been as willing to undertake a similar journalistic outreach and share its exclusive information so as to ensure maximum policy impact?
Color me doubtful. These days, the establishment media all too often adopts an indifferent attitude toward how the public connects with what it publishes, content to merely be conveyors of information rather than providers of context, chroniclers of the powerful instead of champions of the powerless. That no doubt contributes to why the public mistrusts the press so much.
Of course, the not-so dirty little secret about objective journalism is that does have agenda, it just won’t admit to having one honestly and transparently. In fact, the mainstream media advocates on behalf of politics and policiesall the time. Most of the time it's in service of the status quo, but not always. Take again, for example, the Post’s Dana Priest. In 2007, she produced world-class reporting on the horrid conditions for wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed hospital. Couched as objective, this was in fact advocacy reporting at its best, uncovering wrongdoing, challenging the status quo, and shaming our military into fixing a broken system. Though she won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, what made her journalism stand out was that it applied a steady adversarial pressure to get results. In contrast to the intermittent nature of her “Top Secret America” series, Priest published 10 separate stories on Walter Reed over the course of 10 months.
That, to me, is the higher gear that journalism rarely engages but that our democracy demands. It’s also the primary takeaway from the past few months of the “Snowden effect.” That truly free societies depend upon a free press that does more than just finds the facts and tells the stories and calls it a day. They demand a larger commitment from journalists and journalism, a willingness to make the stories matter. To not just make a sound, but to be heard.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Good afternoon Dr. Alterman,
I am belatedly following up on a promise I made to give you my opinion of the latest John Eddie CD after I'd listened to it awhile. I'm pretty certain your recommendation was the reason I'd bought his 2003 CD, Who the Hell is John Eddie?
His latest CD, Same Old Brand New Me, is a lot less angry, but no less disillusioned. No parental advisories on this one. The CD returns repeatedly to the themes of disappointment and failure, but it frequently does so in clever, funny ways. I have a couple of weaknesses that not everyone would share. The first involves lyrics which turn a cliche inside out. Eddie does this successfully on a number of songs, including "If Only They Could See Me Then," and "Don't Stop Me (If You've Heard This One Before." Both songs convincingly create a picture of someone whose best days were twenty or thirty years ago, but who is unconvincingly going through the motions, hilariously in the latter song, mournfully in the former. The inability to change either one's self or one's trajectory can also be found in the title song and "I'm Still Drunk."
My other weakness not everyone would share would encompass the juvenile puns of "Real Big Deck."
Anyway, if you haven't heard it yet, and I'm remembering right that you liked his earlier CD, I'd recommend it. The love songs are fine, but the songs which rock are the ones I've found myself returning to.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
Read Next: The rise and fall of “Murdoch's World.“
As Ukraine remains divided over whether or not to sign an agreement with the European Union, the US media continues to spread myths about the protests surrounding the conflict, according to Stephen Cohen. The Russian studies professor and Nation contributor joined Between the Lines to debunk those myths and explain what the protesters are actually demanding and what role the United States is playing, adding to his critique of the US media's coverage of the protests on the John Batchelor Show last week.
Complexes are not good. Whether Oedipus or Sybil, prison-industrial or military-industrial, you want to avoid complexes and think twice about dating people who have them. Unfortunately, according to our outgoing mayor, New York City has got one—namely “a labor-electoral complex that is undermining our collective future.”
In a final major speech delivered to a friendly crowd at the Economic Club on Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg said the biggest threat now to the survival of the city is the rising cost of employee pensions and healthcare. “Here in New York City, over the past 12 years our pension costs have gone from $1.5 billion to $8.2 billion,” he said. “That’s almost a 500 percent increase – when inflation totaled only 35 percent.” Healthcare costs for employees and retirees were also soarding. Together, the mayor said, those benefits costs represented a drain that has already dragged other cities into bankruptcy and will threaten the same in New York's near future if we're not careful.
“And let’s face it: The future that most elected officials worry most about is their own. Winning election – or reelection – is the goal around which everything else revolves,” the mayor said. “But we cannot afford for our elected officials to put their own futures ahead of the next generation’s, and to continue perpetuating a labor-electoral complex that is undermining our collective future."
The complex the mayor is refering to is the sinister tendency of unions to support politicians who they like. Not many big municipal unions supported Bill de Blasio in the 2013 primary (DC 37 backed John Liu, and the UFT went for Bill Thompson) but de Blasio is closely linked to the Working Families Party, which is backed by labor, as well as to SEIU-1199 and the Communications Workers of America.
So insidious is the threat of the labor-electoral complex that Bloomberg himself succumbed to its spells more than once. In 2004, he granted a generous contract to DC37, the massive union that represents many municipal workers; in the 2005 campaign, DC37 endorsed Bloomberg. Also in 2005, he gave a sweet deal to the UFT, who coincidentally sat out that year's election.
The mayor apparently kicked the habit after his first re-election, bravely deciding in 2009 to rely only on his nine-digit campaign spending and the support of a small but hardy band of newspaper barons to get him a third term.
Now. the mayor having gotten wise to their schemes, not a single municipal employee has a contract, leaving de Blasio with a towering stack of contracts to work through. But that, says Bloomberg, is a good thing: Because he held the line against granting another contract that exacerbated that pension/healthcare problem, the mayor argued, unions were now desperate to get a deal and willing to compromise.
The mayor's logic is interesting. He claims on one hand that it would be horribly irresponsible for elected officials not to solve the pension problem. On the other, he argues that he's performed brilliantly ... by not solving the pension problem, and instead leaving it for his successor.
Across town on Wednesday, de Blasio didn't sound particularly grateful to the mayor for putting him in this enviable position. “We are going to be facing literally an unprecedented situation in the history of this city. We have never faced the fiscal stress created by having our entire workforce in a situation in which the contracts are not finalized and completed," he said, adding that the contract situation will threaten his progressive agenda.
On Thursday, the city's Independent Budget Office released its annual fiscal outlook, which reported, “The Bloomberg Administration’s financial plan assumes the unions will settle for no back pay for the years without contracts or raises. A costless settlement for these prior years remains a long shot as part of an accord with the unions.”
That report also noted that, while health and pension costs are a big deal, the biggest cost factor facing the city isn't pensions or medical costs. It's debt service on all of Bloomberg's capital spending, which is due to rise 15 percent in the next year to $6.9 billion on its way to $7.6 billion in 2017.
It's one thing for Bloomberg to say that health and pension costs are a concern—they are, and at some point the unions' desires could undermine the rest of what the de Blasio administration needs to do. I don't know if, in a city with 50,000 people in the homeless shelters, stagnant wage growth and nearly half of households at or near poverty, those costs are the biggest worry we've got. But you can make the argument that rising benefit expenses could hamstring our ability to respond to those other problems.
But the idea that the mayor, by leaving his successor with a rising debt-service tab and dozens of unfinished contracts, has moved the city closer to resolving its fiscal imbalance—that's more than a little self-serving. Mike Bloomberg has done many fine and sensible things as mayor, like the smoking ban, bike lanes, increasing the high-school graduation rate, bus rapid transit, the investigations of gun retailers, the tech campus on Roosevelt Island and so on. But putting his successor on solid fiscal footing is not one of them.
Read Next: Ten steps de Blasio should take to end stop-and-frisk once and for all.
Dick Cheney came to the Nixon Library this week to talk about his new book, Heart—it’s about his five heart attacks and his heart transplant. When our most hated vice president visits the library of our most disgraced president, you look forward to a good night. So my friend Howard and I went to Yorba Linda, expecting a festive evening of Obama-bashing and a twisted trip back through the glories of the Bush years.
It turned out to be mostly a book event. Signed copies were for sale; Cheney did a Q&A about his book and took a few friendly questions. But the evening ended up as it had to: with Obamacare.
The news of Cheney’s heart transplant, in March 2012, had been welcomed by comedians everywhere. Jon Stewart declared it “the greatest joke setup ever.” Jay Leno had the best line: “This weekend, 71-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant. And I thought this was nice: they let him shoot the donor himself.”
On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart acted out the transplant surgery with himself as the surgeon; the old heart leapt out of Cheney’s chest and bit the terrified surgeon on the neck.
David Letterman said, “Finally all of those midnight trips to the graveyard with the hunchbacked assistant have paid off.”
Joan Rivers summed it up: “Rather surprised Dick Cheney got a heart, after lasting all these years without one.”
The Cheney event was held in the Nixon Library’s “East Room,” an exact replica of the room in the White House, with giant chandeliers, ornate wainscoting and a dozen flags in a row—except that the Yorba Linda version had two giant video screens so the audience of several hundred could see Cheney. The Q&A, conduced by Frank Gannon, a former Nixon assistant, was surprisingly lighthearted, given the somber subject of the book. Gannon’s list of questions couldn’t have been simpler: Tell us about your first heart attack—you were 37. Now tell us about your second.
Howard whispered to me, “It’s the organ recital.” He was referring to the old Jewish joke about the dinner table conversation of the aunts and uncles: “My liver isn’t doing so well,” “My kidneys hurt,” “I have angina.”
“Your third heart attack was my favorite,” Gannon said. It happened on the way into the House chamber in the Capitol to hear Reagan’s 1988 State of the Union speech. “I passed out,” Cheney said, and collapsed onto the floor. His press aide, who was with him, told him afterwards that “several of my colleagues, on their way to the speech, stepped over my body,” and kept going. As he told the story, Cheney chuckled. Those darn Congressmen.
After describing his heart transplant, Cheney thanked his doctor, who is his co-author, and the donor, who is anonymous. Howard whispered, “Notice that he didn’t thank God?”
The only question that got a big, excited response from the audience was, “Can you comment on Obamacare?” What was most significant in Cheney’s answer was what he did not say—the things said by right-wing media at the time of his transplant. The New York Post for example had run the headline, “Beware Obamacare: It might’ve killed Cheney.” The argument was that those dreaded “death panels” would have ruled that Cheney was too old—he was 71—and he would, therefore, have been denied a transplant. Breitbart.com said Obamacare required looking at cases like Cheney’s “as an avenue toward survival of the fittest.” The blog RedState declared, “A Poorer Man Than Dick Cheney Might’ve Died if ObamaCare was in Full Effect”—because of those death panels.
But as Gawker.com pointed out, pre-Obamacare transplant ethics already required that the age and future health of potential donors be considered.
Cheney’s answer to the question about Obamacare was limited to a criticism about the tax on medical devices: “It really worries me,” he said, since stents had kept him alive for years. “I can’t think of a worse notion. If you want less of something, tax it”—an argument that the device tax will stifle innovation. Obama replies that all the industries that gain a windfall from the expansion of medical coverage should be taxed to help offset the cost of that expansion. But thirty Senate Democrats have called for the repeal of the device tax, including Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, which happens to be the home of Medtronic, one of the country’s largest device manufacturers.
In any case it’s a tiny part of Obamacare, significant primarily as a Republican talking point.
Cheney had only one other argument against Obamacare: “A lot of Americans aren’t going to have the ability to go with one doctor”—which, he said, was the key to his successful treatment. Therefore, he concluded, Obamacare is “a bad idea; if I had my druthers, I’d repeal it.” This won lots of applause. My friend Howard said, “But 50 million Americans have no doctor at all, and they will get one under Obamacare.”
The hour came to an end. The audience applauded warmly; Cheney grinned and waved goodbye, and we headed up the freeway, back to liberal L.A.
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Ted Mitchell, the chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund, was nominated in October by President Obama to become the Under Secretary of the Department of Education.
As the administration continues to reshuffle its team, and confront new regulatory challenges, some view Mitchell’s nomination as a move towards greater privatization. In the coming months, the Department of Education will release “gainful employment” rules to rein in for-profit colleges, an experiment in proprietary education that many see as an unmitigated disaster.
As head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, Mitchell oversees investments in education technology start-ups. In July, Zynga, the creators of FarmVille, provided $1 million to Mitchell’s group to boost education gaming companies. Mitchell’s NewSchool Venture Fund also reportedly partners with Pearson, the education mega-corporation that owns a number of testing and test-book companies, along with one prominent for-profit virtual charter school, Connections Academy.
Jeff Bryant, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, says it seems likely that Mitichell will “advocate for more federal promotion of online learning, ‘blended’ models of instruction, ‘adaptive learning’ systems, and public-private partnerships involving education technology.”
Mitchell did not respond to TheNation.com’s request for comment.
His ethics disclosure form shows that he was paid $735,300 for his role at NewSchools, which is organized as a non-profit. In recent years, he has served or is currently serving as a director to New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.
In addition, Mitchell serves as an adviser to Salmon River Capital, a venture capital firm that specializes in education companies. Mitchell sits on the board of Parchment, an academic transcript start-up that is among Salmon River Capital’s portfolio.
Salmon River Capital helped create one of the biggest names in for-profit secondary education, Capella University. “As a foundational investor and director, [Salmon River Capital’s] Josh Lewis made invaluable contributions to Capella’s success. From leading our landmark financing in 2000, when Capella was a $10 million business operating in a difficult environment, through a successful 2006 IPO and beyond, he proved a great partner who kept every commitment he made,” reads a statement from Steve Shank, founder of Capella.
The Minnesota-based Capella heavily recruits veterans and has received $53.1 million from the GI Bill in the past four years. The Minnesota attorney general is currently investigating several unnamed for-profit colleges in her state.
Numerous investigations have shown that for-profit colleges have targeted veterans with deceptive recruiting tactics. “Some for-profits have cleaned out students’ military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge. A vet who enrolled at the largely online Ashford University after being told the GI Bill would cover his tuition ended up owing the school $11,000,” reported Mother Jones.
But the companies are not without some winners: Bloomberg News reported in 2010 that executives at for-profit colleges have raked in $2 billion in compensation.
How the Department of Education moves forward in 2014 with its own set of regulations on for-profit colleges—an industry criticized for burdening a generation with a lifetime of debt—is yet to be determined. Currently, lobbyists for the largest for-profit colleges, including Apollo (University of Phoenix), Education Management Corporation (The Art Institutes), Kaplan, ITT Tech, Career Education Corporation and Corinthian Colleges, are lobbying aggressively to make sure that the rules will not curb the $38 billion in taxpayer money now enjoyed by the industry. The campaign extends to think tanks, politicians and other sources of influence in Washington.
In a presentation posted online by WhiteBoard Advisors, a DC consulting firm that is owned by Grayling, a lobbying corporation that represents for-profit colleges, posed a number of questions to education experts about what Mitchell’s nomination means for gainful employment regulations.
One slide is titled, “Insider Insights: What, if anything, does Mitchell’s selection mean for the gainful employment regulation process?” Many responses are ambiguous, even dismissive if Mitchell can play a role. “Nothing, that’s controlled by James Kvaal, period. That Ted doesn’t think for‐profit providers should be summarily executed means he’s not going to be included in conversations,” reads one anonymous insider’s view.
Others are more optimistic that he will weaken regulations on the for-profit college industry: “Hopefully he will moderate it and be more supportive of private providers.” Some education privatization supporters have been even more candid. Rick Hess, an outspoken supporter of privatization at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted: “Ted Mitchell appt as ED Under Sec is bad news for gainful employment fanatics.”
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Early in the week, things were looking good for the National Security Agency. 60 Minutes gifted the government an hour-long infomercial, and the newly completed report from a review board that the White House stacked with a handful of intelligence insiders was rumored to have proposed only cosmetic reform. Even so, the administration had decided to keep the report private until January, when President Obama plans to lay out what changes, if any, he’ll make to the intelligence programs.
By Wednesday afternoon significant cracks had opened in the NSA’s defenses. The first came courtesy of Judge Richard Leon, a George W. Bush appointee who ruled Monday that the bulk collection of telephone records “almost certainly” violates the Constitution. The second appeared when the administration decided to release the forty-six recommendations made by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to the public.
In more than 300 pages, the panel argues for reforms to the nation’s intelligence apparatus that are far more comprehensive than expected. It calls for the government to shift its database of call records to private companies, and to strengthen the criteria that make such data available for search; for changes to the structure of the NSA and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that rules on the agency’s requests for surveillance authority; for the government to “make clear” that it will not undermine global encryption standards; and for greater protections for foreigners, including an extension of the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-US persons.
“There is a lot in this report for a reformer to like,” Senator Ron Wyden, one of leading advocates for reform, said in a statement. Senator Mark Udall, another critic of the NSA, called the recommendations “sweeping,” and said, “They generally embrace the reforms that I have been advocating for several years, in many cases against vociferous opposition from the Administration.”
Neither ruling ensures substantive changes within the NSA. An appellate court could overturn Judge Leon’s opinion. Obama may ignore the recommendations, which still leave open substantial holes. The report fails to address the legality of the NSA’s programs, from both constitutional and statutory perspectives. Many of the recommendations are strong in theory, and short on detail of how they could be enforced in light of the agency’s repeated willingness to bend the rules to suit its needs.
Taken together, though, the court ruling and the panel’s recommendations undermine the government’s defense of its surveillance activities in powerful ways. Both challenge assertions that the data dragnet is a national security imperative; that the record of our phone calls is only a benign dump of data rather than key points in the constellation of our daily lives; that security and civil liberty are at competing ends of a policy stick; and that the greatest threats facing US citizens are from traitorous leaks and media misrepresentation, rather than the surveillance programs in question.
“We cannot discount the risk, in light of the lessons of our own history, that at some point in the future, high-level government officials will decide that this massive database of extraordinarily sensitive private information is there for the plucking,” the report reads. “Americans must never make the mistake of wholly ‘trusting’ our public officials.”
The report should embarrass public officials and legislators who have tried to preserve the NSA’s data collection programs, which Judge Leon called “almost Orwellian.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat in charge of the Intelligence Committee, and others have spent months arguing that the phone records program should be enshrined in law, for the paradoxical reasons that metadata is both essential to national security and trivial when it comes to individual privacy. “The assumption behind the argument that meta-data is meaningfully different from other information is that the collection of meta-data does not seriously invade individual privacy. As we have seen, however, that assumption is questionable,” the report reads. Critically, the review confirmed that the information gained from the phone metadata program “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” by other means. The panel concluded, “There is no sufficient justification for allowing the government itself to collect and store bulk telephony meta-data.”
As privacy advocates have pointed out, it isn’t clear that directing telecom companies or a third party to store communications records will be meaningfully different from the government maintaining such a database itself, because the records would still be available for query if authorized by the FISC.
The report’s essential contribution may not be its specific policy recommendations, but rather the doubt it introduces about the way business is conducted across an entire agency. Five people close to the intelligence community and the administration served on the review board, and prior to the release of the report there was widespread concern that the lack of distance between the reviewers and the White House would defang the recommendations. That makes the panel’s uneasiness with the state of affairs all the more remarkable. Obama may not heed its recommendations, but it will be increasingly difficult to argue that there is nothing to see here.
The specter of Edward Snowden haunts the report, although he isn’t mentioned. A footnote argues that an Obama directive that extended some protection to whistleblowers “does not go far enough,” and recommends creating a pathway for whistleblowers to report to a new Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Still, the report notes that “the potential danger of leaks is more serious than ever,” and emphasizes the damage that can be done by a “disloyal employee.” Several of the recommendations center on containing this “insider threat,” including restricting access to classified information, seemingly to prevent a future Snowden. But the report does far more to vindicate Snowden as a whistleblower than to condemn him for a betrayal. Its very existence signifies the importance of his disclosures.
The report is a confirmation of pathology, not a perfect prescription. As such it underscores the need for Congress to advance its own reforms. Many of the recommendations align with legislation pushed by the pro-reform coalition that stretches from libertarian Justin Amash to progressive John Conyers in the House, and from Rand Paul to Patrick Leahy in the Senate. Now that Judge Leon and the review panel have cracked the veneer of ordinariness that the administration has worked to paint over the NSA’s activities, there is more space for a discussion of what happens next.
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Russia, and its thuggish president, Vladimir Putin, may have won this round in Ukraine, and there’s not a lot that the United States can do about it—or should do about it—now that Russia and Ukraine have re-established economic and political ties. That’s bad news for Senator John McCain, who made a big splash visiting the Ukrainian capital of Kiev recently, and for American hawks who’ve tried to mobilize anti-Russian sentiment in the United States seeking some sort of quixotic showdown over the crisis there.
With Ukraine trapped between going “west”—signing a deal with the European Union that would have included political and judicial changes inside Ukraine and economic austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund—and going “east,” aligning itself more closely with Russia, President Yanukovich chose the latter. The inducement was a $15 billion Russian plan to underwrite Ukraine’s debt and a huge cut in the price of Russian gas for the Ukrainian market, from nearly $700 per 1,000 cubic feet to just $268.50. That was incentive enough for Yanukovich to go along, and it probably secures Russia’s interest in Ukraine for the foreseeable future.
It wasn’t merely Russia’s generous offer that tipped the scale, but also the refusal by the EU to sweeten its offer. As a special report by Reuters today points out, “The unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners.” On top of that, the EU didn’t really offer Ukraine membership in the EU but some vaguely defined partnership.
Yanukovich slammed the parade of US and European officials who’ve been shuttling in and out of Kiev ever since the start of the mass protests there. “I am categorically against anybody coming and teaching us how to live,” he said. Somewhat hilariously, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has exerted enormous, blatant pressure on Ukraine to prevent it from going West, had this to say:
“Kiev is being flatly urged to make a ‘free choice in favor of Europe’—this very phrase is self-contradictory,” Lavrov added. “At the same time, a sovereign nation is being deprived of its right to deal with the situation on its own terms and function in accordance with its legitimate national interests.”
This was, of course, a blatant power play by Russia, which used its vast economic power in Ukraine to block the Ukraine-EU accord. As Tim Judah summarizes the hardball play from Moscow in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books,
In the meantime Putin was piling on the pressure. In August, trade ground to a virtual standstill as Russian officials began checking every single truck crossing the border. They began withdrawing licenses for certain companies—especially those connected to oligarchs in Yanukovych’s eastern heartlands—to export to Russia; and Russian importers began to break contracts already signed for metal products, steel, and cars. In only a few months the level of trade between Ukraine and Russia dropped 25 percent; in eastern Ukraine, one source who asked to remain anonymous told me, production dropped between 30 and 40 percent between May and November. All this served to compound Ukraine’s existing economic woes.
Raising the temperature of the crisis, a Russian analyst in the government-controlled Russian RT broadcast network says that McCain and others are “risking a sort of civil war” by intervening, threatening sanctions and backing the protests against Yanukovich’s government—protests, by the way, that include outright fascist, Nazi-like activists from the ultra-right Svoboda party. Says the analyst, Aleksandr Nekrassov, disingenuously,
The only reason why [the protesters] are still there is because they feel the might of the European Union behind them and so foreign politicians like Senator McCain and others, coming over and basically inflaming tensions. I think it is actually quite amazing that we see European countries sending their politicians there because it is provoking violence in a sense.… And for Senator McCain, of all people, to come over to Ukraine and threaten sanctions—who is Senator McCain to threaten sanctions when it comes to Ukraine? On what authority is he doing that?
McCain, like other hawks, has said that the United States ought to impose sanctions on Ukraine if the authorities use more heavyhanded tactics against the protests. But even McCain acknowledges that there isn’t a lot that the United States can do. In an interview with RFE/RL after returning from Ukraine, McCain had this exchange:
RFE/RL: Are there any other steps the United States should take to support pro-EU forces in Ukraine?
McCain: No, I was pleased to go there and support these people who are struggling for a better country and a better government. But the future of Ukraine will be determined by the Ukrainian people and I think right now they have some very fine leadership and I was really deeply impressed by the enthusiasm of these young people.
The Wall Street Journal wants more action, though. In its editorial on the Russian offer, “The Putin Crony Rescue Fund,” the Journal says,
The U.S., which has public influence in Ukraine, could respond by considering sanctions on the Yanukovych government and its allies if it tries to keep power through repression. This message could be as powerful as the Kremlin’s checkbook.
So far, to its credit, the Obama administration is talking about taking direct action, even though its officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the latter of whom visited Kiev, have declared their support for the protests. Let’s hope it stays that way. The crisis is far from over, and things could still take a turn for the worse.
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