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Secretary Of State Emailgate

So a story about Hillary Clinton broke over the weekend that I didn’t comment on or post. I waited to chime in because frankly, I had more questions than I had a basis upon which to form an opinion. That hasn’t changed. I’m still flummoxed by what is going on here, but we did get some more information that I want to comment on.

In case you missed the story, Hillary apparently used a personal email address for all of her communications as Secretary Of State. She didn’t even have an official government email account. Wtf? I mean seriously, wtf? Is there no HR department to coordinate with IT to set up an email account? Did Hillary not know that she, of all people will never be able to get away with anything, ever in her life? Other than the fact that this was deliberately done (by the administration) in order to hide communications, nothing else about this makes sense to me. Why would someone who is potentially going to run for president leave themselves so open for accusations of corruption?

I don’t know. But the new information is that the New York Times left out some very relevant context in this story. The first important piece of information the Times left out, is something that Michael Tomansky from The Daily Beast discovered when he reached out to the State Department for clarification on something in the Times piece. The Times piece referenced "new regulations" at State, but they didn’t disclose when the new regulations went into effect. Tomansky got an answer to that question. From his piece:

A senior State Department official emailed me to say that “in October 2014, a Department-wide notice was sent out which explained each employee’s responsibilities for records management. Consistent with 2013 NARA guidance, it included instructions that generally employees should not use personal email for the transaction of government business, but that in the very limited circumstances when it is necessary, all records must be forwarded to a government account or otherwise preserved in the Department’s electronic records systems.”

Okay, that’s a pretty big piece of information to omit. This piece of information is so relevant, that it completely contradicts the title of the Times piece:

Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules

Ummmm, no. You can’t break a rule that didn’t take effect until after you left your position.

The second piece of information left out of the Times piece is that Colin Powell also used a personal email account. John Kerry is the first secretary of state to (ostensibly) primarily use his State Department email account. Context is important, and leaving it out in this case was done to make it seem as if Hillary was being extra, super shady and behaving in an unprecedented way. She clearly wasn’t.

Before you assume that this piece is a defense of Hillary, let me stop you. Let me repeat; the only reason to use personal email accounts to conduct government business, is to hide things. She knew what she was doing and why she was doing it, just as Colin Powell (and probably all of their predecessors) did. And while they didn’t break any laws or departmental rules, they did behave in a nefarious way by hiding things from the public.

To be clear, this isn’t being done to hide things from us. This practice is designed to hide things from history. These communications can be classified so that we don’t see them anytime soon. Insuring that they’re not archived at all, means there’s no chance that they will be declassified in the future.

No, Hillary didn’t technically do anything wrong, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t wrong. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why she would take the extra step of not getting a State Department email address at all.

The Times piece should have been about the record keeping practices at the State Department. But since the "reporter" decided to do a hack hit piece in Hillary, we will once again be having the wrong conversation.

So close to informative journalism, and yet so far away.


Hey SCOTUS, We Have The Appearance Of Corruption

Something very interesting, but not at all surprising happened last week that I can’t allow to go unnoticed. It has to do with the sweet, doe eyed belief by the far right wing of the Supreme Court, that money can’t possibly corrupt our political system.

Vance McAllister, the republican who won a congressional seat in special election in Louisiana last November made news last week, for the second time in his short and legislatively empty tenure. You may remember him from a few months ago, when he was caught on tape making out with a married staffer (naturally, he is also married). Being the class act that he is, he decided to finish out his term while at the same time firing the staffer for doing exactly what he did. Remember?

Anyway, he’s back in the news and it’s worse than the last time he was in the news. He made some fascinating admissions during a speech to the Northeast Chapter of Louisiana CPAs when he told a story about a vote he cast. From the article;

McAllister said he voted on legislation related to the Bureau of Land Management though he did not identify the bill. McAllister said a colleague on the House floor told him that he would receive a $1,200 contribution from Heritage Foundation if he voted against the bill.

“I played dumb and asked him, ‘How would you vote?’” McAllister said. “He told me, ‘Vote no and you will get a $1,200 check from the Heritage Foundation. If you vote yes, you will get a $1,000 check from some environmental impact group.’”

McAllister said he voted against the bill but did not receive a $1,200 contribution from Heritage Foundation. Federal law prohibits public officials, including members of Congress, from directly or indirectly seeking, accepting or agreeing to receive anything of value in return for the performance of any official act such as voting.

McAllister said he was not surprised he did not receive a contribution from Heritage Foundation since the group and Gov. Bobby Jindal were “upset with me,” referring to Jindal’s call for McAllister’s resignation. Jindal asked McAllister to resign after The Ouachita Citizen and its sister newspapers exposed McAllister’s extramarital affair with a member of his congressional staff.

Isn’t the lack of corruption and the lack of the appearance of corruption comforting? But don’t get the wrong idea that you may be seeing some corruption here because a spokesman for Heritage stepped up to clear this right up for us (from the article);    

Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. It conducts research of issues and legislation before the Congress. Heritage Foundation does not make political contributions in any manner, according to James Weidman, spokesman for Heritage Foundation.

Weidman said McAllister did not receive a $1,200 contribution from Heritage “because we would never do anything like that.” “If he (McAllister) is wondering why he didn’t receive a check from the Heritage Foundation, which does not make political expenditures of any kind, it is because we do not do it,” Weidman said.

“The Heritage Foundation is a think tank and does research and education, but does not get involved with political bills at all.” “He was just badly misinformed,” Weidman added.

Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. But don’t you worry because I’m positive that this is all a misunderstanding, and that SCOTUS’s sunny optimism was well founded and not all a product of the perks they themselves get from the very same benefactors who are so generous with congress.

Nope, nothing to see here. Move along.

Or, you can help by joining Wolf PAC and changing the system.    


Why We Can’t Have Nice Things


That’s the Cliff Notes version for those of you who don’t like reading more than just a headline. For everyone else, let me explain what has me bitchy today.

"Stand your ground" in Florida. I know what you’re thinking; Bitchy has been bitchy about "stand your ground" for a long time now. That’s true, but there’s a new development that has significantly elevated my level of bitchiness. About a month and a half ago, the Tampa Bay Times published an article of their analysis of 200 "stand your ground" cases. Here’s a summary of what they found;

  • People who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time
  • People who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time
  • Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks
  • Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks
  • Of the 88 fatal "stand your ground” cases that have been decided, about 1/4 involved defendants and victims of different races including; six cases in which a white killed a black, five cases in which a black killed a white and six in which a Hispanic killed a non-Hispanic
  • No charges were filed in most of those mixed-race cases

Whether you like this data or you don’t like this data, you should like the fact that someone is looking at the data. I do. I like data because unlike anecdotal evidence, it’s empirical. Data objectively lets us know if something is producing positive or negative results. Data helps us to form objective opinions about things, and I believe that more information = better informed opinions. But I don’t want to get into this data, or present to you the other pieces of data I have about "stand your ground"and what a destructive law it is. That’s not what has me bitchy.

The thing that has me at DefCon 5 of bitchiness is a republican Florida house member named Matt Gaetz. Matt Gaetz doesn’t like the data. He doesn’t like some of the alarming things that the data shows. So what do you do when you don’t like the data? Do you address the problem that the data suggests may exist by perhaps asking for more data? Do you maybe take a closer look at the law that created the alarming results that the data shows? Do you rethink your position on something because the data you don’t like is telling you that there’s a problem?

No, silly goose! Matt Gaetz is a republican, and there’s a reason why fewer republicans than ever "believe" in evolution or climate change, than democrats or independents. They just disregard data they don’t like. But Matt Gaetz is going further than simply disregarding the data he doesn’t like. He’s trying to make it impossible to collect this type of data in the future.

Gaetz has proposed an amendment to a bill that would expand the scope of "stand your ground" to expunge the court records if the "stand your ground" defense was successful. In other words, we won’t be able to look at the data that might show us if there’s anything nefarious about how the law is being applied. Now, Matt Gaetz is no Rhodes scholar so he didn’t come up with this tactic on his own.

No, this is a tactic that the NRA has found to be tried and true. Back in 1996, the NRA and the legislators they bought successfully blocked funding for the CDC’s research into gun violence. If you clicked on that last link, I’d like to point out that Jay Dickey, who co-wrote that article was one of the cosponsors of the bill to strip the CDC of that research funding. So for 18 years now, we haven’t been able to learn things like, how many kids are accidentally shot by their gun loving parent’s firearm in the house? The data in that last link was compiled by doctors who did the painstaking work of combing through hospital records because there is no other way to find it, since the NRA has also (successfully, in many states) lobbied to make sure that the accidental shooting of a child is not criminal. So there’s no data on criminal charges to be looked at. See what the NRA did there? Data = bad, so we need to block anyone’s ability to ever collect any data that might suggest that having a gun in your home may not be a brilliant idea.

This is a tactic that is also (largely) working for Monsanto, who won’t let us look at the genetic modifications they’re making to our food (proprietary information and other bullshit like that) and they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure these modifications get a blessing from the FDA. They’ve produced mountains of "GMOs are safe" studies by buying scientists to make sure they get the results they want. Have you ever noticed how the "science" in the US regarding GMOs has come to vastly different conclusions than the science in the rest of the world?

We can’t have nice things because our government is bought and paid for. We can’t have nice things because a battalion of lobbyists have been deployed to hide information, fabricate information, and do whatever they can to confuse us into not knowing what "nice things" are. Do you think that fewer parents would have guns in their homes if they knew that 10,000 kids a year were being injured because of unsecured firearms in the house? I don’t know, but I know that the NRA is worried about that information getting out. Do you think that fewer people would eat corn that is genetically modified to be resistant to toxic weed killers if we could get some peer reviewed studies in those modifications? I don’t know, but Monsanto seem to be worried about that data getting out.

Part of why we’re dumb, is because there’s a concerted effort to make us dumb. Because dumb people don’t notice that they’re not getting nice things.

We need to reform our political system before we can have a functional government that serves the people, let alone nice things. We need to get money and corporate personhood out of our political equation. We will never be able to solve our big issues until we get the money out.

So let me continue my broken record impersonation;




Mass Surveillance? It’s The Money, Lebowski

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. As we get more information on the mass surveillance programs (both PRISM and the “Terrorist” Surveillance Program), I’m becoming convinced of one thing; these programs are about feeding the military industrial complex with our money. More importantly, it’s about feeding the privatized military industrial complex.

Why do I think that? Because The White House, and several senators who vehemently support the program have been bumbling and fumbling to come up with just one terrorist plot that was thwarted by these programs. On Friday, Mike Rogers claimed that these surveillance programs were instrumental in foiling Najibullah Zazi’s plan to bomb New York City subways. It took me fifteen minutes of Googling to find the holes in his story. Twelve hours later, Buzzfeed debunked it. And then on Monday, several US officials including Dianne Feinstein claimed that the surveillance programs should be credited with the capture of David Coleman Headley, who planned the Mumbai attacks. By Wednesday, ProPublica debunked those claims. Then on Wednesday, Gen. Keith Alexander claimed that these programs thwarted dozens of attacks, including the two that were debunked. Wouldn’t dozens of foiled attacks mean dozens of trials with dozens of trial transcripts containing intercepted communications?

These claims are a joke on their face. So why are these people twisting themselves into pretzels to defend programs they can’t legitimately justify? It’s the money, Lebowski.

The US intelligence budget for 2013 is 19.2 billion dollars. Booz Allen (whose employees are in a revolving door between Booz and the NSA) was awarded 3.8 billion dollars in government contracts last year. That represents 99% of Booz Allen’s total revenue. And that’s just one government contractor.

Our current Director Of National Intelligence, James Clapper is a former Booz Allen employee. I promise you that both he and Gen. Keith Alexander will both be receiving giant paydays when they finish their government service and to to work for Booz Allen.

And just like the fighter jets the pentagon doesn’t want and doesn’t need (but gets anyway), and the tanks they don’t want and don’t need (but get anyway), this program will not die.

And like the fighter jets that don’t work, these programs aren’t going to continue because they’re keeping us safe. They won’t die because of the money, Lebowski.


Snatching Defeat From The Hands Of Victory

That should be the tagline for the democratic party. How can I say that a week after democrats successfully recalled two state senators in Wisconsin, and a day after they successfully defended two Wisconsin senate seats? I can say it because they’re poised to fuck up the rest of the work that needs to be done in Wisconsin.

Here’s the deal; Scott Walker, whose approval rating is abysmal is eligible to be recalled in January. Sounds like a great position for democrats, right? Not so fast. National democratic strategists (I use that term loosely and with with much disdain) are now thinking about rolling the Walker recall vote into the 2012 election. Why would they let this asshole keep screwing working people in Wisconsin for another year and a half? Because it’s not about the people. It’s about the politics. And to rub salt in the wound, it’s about bad politics.

These brilliant “strategists” think that they have a better chance of recalling Walker if they ride the Obama wave in 2012. Yup, you read that correctly; The Obama Wave. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, but I’m looking at the polls. The only waving being done here is by Obama, waving at his approval rating as it fades into the distance. He has plummeted into the high 30s. That’s right, the guy that defeated the pirates and killed Bin Laden is within 10 points of Bush when he left office. Now, depending on who you talk to, the low approval ratings are either because 70% of us are among the unreasonable “professional left” or, Obama is just the most ineffective president in recent history. But that’s a topic for another post, or several previous posts, as the case may be. My point is that they’re factoring in a mythical movement that isn’t validated by one single piece of empirical evidence. There’s no Obama wave. There is Obama frustration and Obama apathy. There is a decided lack of “wave”.

I believe that the Walker recall has a better chance if it’s a stand alone election. The polls clearly show that Wisconsinites want him to get the fuck out now. I don’t know why you would dick around for another year, hanging your hopes on an advantage that doesn’t exist.

On top of the sheer stupidity, waiting for 2012 clearly sends a message by democrats; We don’t give a shit about Wisconsin or it’s citizens. We just want to win.

This is exactly why most people don’t pay attention to politics and why they don’t vote. All of the options fucking BLOW, and the politicians are getting worse and worse at pretending they don’t suck.

But don’t despair, there is a glimmer of hope. Wisconsinites can buck the national democratic party and get the recall signatures on their own. They can snatch victory from the hands that want to snatch defeat from the hands of victory. Wait, I’m all confused now. Well, you get my point. Wisconsinites have the opportunity to set an example by ignoring the democrats’ nonsense and the republicans’ tyranny. If they take it upon themselves to rectify the situation, independent of either party, they have the chance to give us all hope that we can buck this two shitty party system that we have.

Both parties are being allowed to be shitty by us. It’s time that we start getting active in a meaningful way. I’m talking to you, Wisconsin! Go get em!


I HATE Government And If You Expose It, You Should Die

Good God, republicans are fucking idiots.

You’ve heard about the WiKiLeaks data dump by now. And I’m assuming that you’ve heard right wing pundits and politicians calling for the execution of Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief for WiKiLeaks?

Riddle me this, batman – why would a party who purports to hate government and everything it stands for, fight so hard to protect its secrets? Does that make sense to anyone? Shouldn’t republicans spontaneously ejaculate every time government’s secrets are exposed? Are they stupid, or are they hypocrites?

They’re both, but not simultaneously.

I was listening to Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck discussing the Assange treason situation. Honestly, every time those two discuss anything, it’s pure comedy gold. Watching them is like watching one thousand monkeys on typewriters, and expecting them to bang out Shakespeare any minute now. They fall into the “stupid” camp. Their viewers likewise, fall into the idiot camp.

Their masters, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdock fall into the hypocrite category. They’re hypocrites because they don’t hate government, and they never have. They just hate good government, which is why they contribute so generously to bad government. They love the kind of government that enables them to get cheap labor, exorbitant tax cuts, and generally keep the money that they inherited. They like the kind of government that helps them protect their money. The kind of government that helps the middle class is the kind they’re opposed to.

So why did they decide to sic the stupid dogs on Julian Assange? Because the next round of leaks will be aimed at the bankers. Not just that, but there’s always the fear that the next wave of government leaks will expose the corporate corruption in our government officials.

You see, they have to protect the government that they’ve so heavily invested in for all these years. I can actually respect that. They’re looking after their self interest.

It’s the dummies I can’t explain. The O’Reillies, Becks, Hannities, and their viewers flummox me. These morons don’t actually see that you can’t hate government while advocating for keeping its secrets, without doing it from a straight jacket. This is the most inane of opinions.

If you hate the government, you should love the leakers that keep it in check. You only hate the leakers if you trust government implicitly. But a distrust of the government is not even remotely consistent with a desire to let it protect its secrets. Only an idiot would find these two combined ideas compelling.

I believe that good government is possible, but that’s because I’m a sunny optimist. I don’t believe that good government is possible unless it’s under a microscope. I don’t believe that good government is possible unless the vast majority of the electorate is looking into that microscope. I like leaks. I wish there were more of them because the threat of exposure may eventually minimize some of the shady shit that our government is trying to pull on us and on the world.

Next time some asshole tells you that a leaker should be assassinated, ask them why they’re so pro big government.


You’ll Get Groped Because Of The Money, Lebowski

I’m traveling over the holiday, so my impending TSA grope is naturally on my mind. But before I share my views on our current state of airport molestation, I need to express my thoughts on each step that led up to this.

In the year immediately following 9/11, airport security understandably tightened considerably. I happened to have been flying a lot in the two years after 9/11. While I understood the need for tightened security, I could not understand the way we went about it. Four security check points were set up from the airport entrance to the gate. This might have made sense if the idea was to stagger the step at which everyone’s bags were screened, but that’s not how it went. I happen to have a middle eastern looking last name (probably because I’m Iranian). I don’t look middle eastern. In fact, I get mistaken for Latino, more often than not. For every single flight that I took for two years, I was “randomly selected” for “extra screening” upon showing my driver’s license. This might not have been completely nonsensical, were it not for the way it was done. I was “selected” at each of the four checkpoints between the entrance and the gate so my bag was checked four times while the other two hundred people boarding my flight carried on bags that were never checked. It was an inane and inefficient system that, in my estimation made us less “safe”.

Let me just say that I’m not opposed to racial profiling. Let me explain what I mean by that, before your head explodes. I am not opposed to scientific methods being used by trained intelligence professionals, in order to determine who merits spending our precious little resources to take a closer look at. When done correctly, racial profiling is an invaluable tool in preventing terrorism. For example, any twenty-something year old male coming in and out of the country from Yemen should be looked at by our intelligence agencies. That person is in the most likely group of people to be radicalized, and their frequent travel to the US merits taking a close look at what they’re up to. At the time of 9/11, there was predominantly one kind of terrorist; middle eastern men in their twenties.

If I’m boarding a plane in 2002 and there’s a twenty-something middle eastern man boarding my flight, I want him checked. Call me an asshole, but that’s whose bag I want checked. I don’t want the old Asian woman “specially screened” because in the history of terrorism, there has never been a seventy year old Chinese woman recruited to bomb shit. Screening her is a waste of time and resources, and the political correctness makes me less secure.

Another thing I don’t want, is to have the same bag checked four fucking times. I don’t care if the person holding that bag is in the “terrorist demographic”. When you check that guys bag four times, you’re telling me and the world that you’re fucking incompetent and you’re making me less secure.

I definitely don’t want a TSA screener profiling anyone. We’re talking about tasking someone that falls into the “unskilled labor” category with keeping our country safe. That’s just batshit crazy. These people make $27,000 a year (I know this because I spent 4 months in 2002 recruiting them), may or may not have high school diplomas, and have a grand total of two days of training for their jobs. These are not intelligence professionals. These are blue collar workers. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against blue collar workers. I’m opposed to giving blue collar workers the type of authority and autonomy that an intelligence professional has earned by investing time in obtaining an education and years training for their job. There’s a reason why we don’t make brilliant recent college grads CEOs right away. Despite their brilliance, they still need years of experience before they’re ready to run a company.

Profiling at the airport would have been understandable for a finite period of time right after 9/11. We were scrambling to improve our national security systems immediately following the biggest terrorism attack in US history. A certain amount of running around like headless chickens would have been understandable. But ten years later? That’s fucking crazy. If your terrorist has made it to the airport, you’ve already failed at keeping the country safe. Terrorism is effectively thwarted by intelligence and policing. Identifying potential terrorists and monitoring their activities before they get to the point of executing their plans is how you stop them.

We had enough credible intelligence on many of the 9/11 hijackers to indicate that they were suspicious. We failed to follow up on that intelligence. We had plenty of red flags go up on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber) that we failed to follow up on. The man’s father warned us about him, for fucks sake! In both of these cases, the terrorist should and could have been stopped before ever getting near an airport.

I’m not saying that securing our airports isn’t a necessary part of the equation. It is. But what we’re doing is idiotic. We need to follow the Israeli model of airport security. Here is a great article describing Israeli airport security. They don’t have the long lines and asinine procedures that we do. They don’t have a humiliating and invasive screening process. And they don’t have terrorists boarding their planes.

So why is the American approach so ass backward? Are we stupid or incompetent? Neither (well, not entirely). It’s about the money, Lebowski. We’re geing groped and humiliated because a few people are making a lot of money doing it to us. Michael Chertoff, our barely adequate former head of homeland security is among those making a tidy little profit on this whole deal. He, like everyone else that leaves government, saw an opportunity to make a shitload of money in the private sector so he started the Chertoff Group ten minutes after leaving his government job. The Chertoff Group is a “security consulting firm”. What does he mean by “security consulting firm”? He means, lobbyist for Rapiscan – you know, the company that got paid twenty-five million dollars to install full body scanners in our airports.

He’s not alone. There are dozens of former government officials vying for the hundreds of millions of dollars that are up for grabs in the airport security money trough. Are any of them interested in securing our country in the most effective possible way? No. They’re interested in the money, Lebowski. And how about the government officials that are awarding the big contracts to keep us “safe”. Are they interested in securing our country in the most effective possible way? No. They’re interested in the high paying lobbying job that’s waiting for them after they “award” a company a giant contract.

Our political system is so fucked up that it’s destroying our standing in the world, our economic stability, our national security, and our crotches.

I’m sorry, but if my being groped has to become a profit center, I should be the one making the profit. I should be able to set my terms and my price. And I should be able to pick my own gropers.

Right now I’m a $5 hand job crack whore with a pimp that takes every cent that I make. What do I get in exchange? His assurances that he’s just looking out for me. I just melt every time he whispers, “I’ll take care of you, baby. You’re my #1 ho” in my ear.