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Weed: Been There. Done That. For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.
But then we all sort of moved away from it. I don’t remember any big group decision that we should give up weed. It just sort of petered out, and, before long, we were scarcely using it.
We didn’t give it up for the obvious health reasons: that it is addictive in about one in six teenagers; that smoking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed; that young people who smoke go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.
I think we gave it up, first, because we each had had a few embarrassing incidents. Stoned people do stupid things (that’s basically the point). I smoked one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning.
We gave it up, second, I think, because one member of our clique became a full-on stoner. He may have been the smartest of us, but something sad happened to him as he sunk deeper into pothead life. (New York Times)
Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas have joined Google’s growing robot menagerie.
Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.
It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year. Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software. (New York Times)
Arrest in U.S. Shuts Down a Black Market for Narcotics Nearly everything about Silk Road was shrouded in secrecy.
It began in 2011 as an underground online marketplace for drug users, a site where endless varieties of marijuana — as well as LSD, ecstasy and prescription pills — could be bought from sellers across the world. It branched out to other illicit goods, including forged documents, and emerged as a black market version of eBay, where criminals could do business with more than 100,000 customers.
It worked on one basic principle: Everyone remained anonymous. Users could gain access to the network only through software meant to ensure anonymity. Credit cards and PayPal were not accepted. Bitcoins, a virtual currency, were, and even those transactions were scrambled. All that connected them in real life was a name, often fake, and the address to which the package would be sent.
And the mastermind behind Silk Road was cloaked in mystery, known as Dread Pirate Roberts, after a character in the movie “The Princess Bride.” But Silk Road went dark this week, and its owner was unmasked as Ross Ulbricht, 29, who is accused in a criminal complaint, among other things, of asking a man to kill a Silk Road vendor who had threatened to reveal the identities of others who used the site. (New York Times)
N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens - Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.
N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest. (New York Times)
DNA Double Take From biology class to "C.S.I.," we are told again and again that our genome is at the heart of our identity. Read the sequences in the chromosomes of a single cell, and learn everything about a person’s genetic information — or, as 23andme, a prominent genetic testing company, says on its Web site, "The more you know about your DNA, the more you know about yourself."
But scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.
"There have been whispers in the matrix about this for years, even decades, but only in a very hypothetical sense," said Alexander Urban, a geneticist at Stanford University. Even three years ago, suggesting that there was widespread genetic variation in a single body would have been met with skepticism, he said. "You would have just run against the wall." (New York Times)
A Plea for Caution From Russia -- What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.
The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.
No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance. (New York Times)
The Program (video) It took me a few days to work up the nerve to phone William Binney. As someone already a “target” of the United States government, I found it difficult not to worry about the chain of unintended consequences I might unleash by calling Mr. Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower. He picked up. I nervously explained I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to speak to him. To my surprise he replied: “I’m tired of my government harassing me and violating the Constitution. Yes, I’ll talk to you.”
Two weeks later, driving past the headquarters of the N.S.A. in Maryland, outside Washington, Mr. Binney described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004.
“The decision must have been made in September 2001,” Mr. Binney told me and the cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. “That’s when the equipment started coming in.” In this Op-Doc, Mr. Binney explains how the program he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on this country. He resigned over this in 2001 and began speaking out publicly in the last year. He is among a group of N.S.A. whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything — their freedom, livelihoods and personal relationships — to warn Americans about the dangers of N.S.A. domestic spying. (New York Times)
Video of Clashes in Brazil Appears to Show Police Infiltrators Among Protesters Supporters of Brazil's protest movement and the police in Rio de Janeiro spent much of Tuesday arguing online over which side was to blame for violence at a demonstration the night before, at the start of a papal visit.
While neither side was able to produce definitive proof of who instigated the clashes on Monday near the governor’s palace in Rio, shortly after Pope Francis left the area, an examination of video recorded by witnesses, protesters and the police did appear to show undercover officers — called infiltrators by the protesters and intelligence agents by the authorities — at work.
A central piece of evidence in the arguments presented by both sides was 40 seconds of video released by Rio’s military police that showed a man near the front line between the two sides lighting and then hurling a Molotov cocktail, which exploded with a loud bang near officers in riot gear.
Video released by the military police in Rio de Janeiro recorded as a standoff between protesters and officers turned violent on Monday night.
Although the police provided the video to the newspaper O Globo, and issued an invitation to the public via Twitter to watch what the department described as images of the protester who started the confrontation by throwing a Molotov cocktail at officers, within hours the clip was mysteriously removed from YouTube. (New York Times)
A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold Hundreds of millions of times a day, thirsty Americans open a can of soda, beer or juice. And every time they do it, they pay a fraction of a penny more because of a shrewd maneuver by Goldman Sachs and other financial players that ultimately costs consumers billions of dollars.
The story of how this works begins in 27 industrial warehouses in the Detroit area where a Goldman subsidiary stores customers’ aluminum. Each day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. Two or three times a day, sometimes more, the drivers make the same circuits. They load in one warehouse. They unload in another. And then they do it again.
This industrial dance has been choreographed by Goldman to exploit pricing regulations set up by an overseas commodities exchange, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The back-and-forth lengthens the storage time. And that adds many millions a year to the coffers of Goldman, which owns the warehouses and charges rent to store the metal. It also increases prices paid by manufacturers and consumers across the country.
Tyler Clay, a forklift driver who worked at the Goldman warehouses until early this year, called the process “a merry-go-round of metal.”
Only a tenth of a cent or so of an aluminum can’s purchase price can be traced back to the strategy. But multiply that amount by the 90 billion aluminum cans consumed in the United States each year — and add the tons of aluminum used in things like cars, electronics and house siding — and the efforts by Goldman and other financial players has cost American consumers more than $5 billion over the last three years, say former industry executives, analysts and consultants.
The inflated aluminum pricing is just one way that Wall Street is flexing its financial muscle and capitalizing on loosened federal regulations to sway a variety of commodities markets, according to financial records, regulatory documents and interviews with people involved in the activities. (New York Times)
American Mayors: Let Them Smoke Pot It has been more than seven months since voters in Colorado and Washington State chose to legalize marijuana for recreational use, in contravention of federal drug laws. It has been more than three months since Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would announce his department’s response to the new statutes “relatively soon.”
So far: nothing. Mr. Holder has yet to indicate whether he will side with all nine former heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who published an open letter urging federal pre-emption.
On Monday, the United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution suggesting the opposite: that the Obama administration should let the states decide this issue for themselves. “Despite the prohibition of marijuana,” the resolution reads, “and the 22 million marijuana arrests that have occurred in the United States since 1965,” some “42 percent of Americans” have used the drug. (New York Times)
Two Are Accused in Canada of Plotting Train Derailment The Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Monday announced the arrest of two men who are accused of planning to derail a passenger train in an Al Qaeda-linked plot.
The police, saying the investigation was continuing, offered little in the way of details or evidence at a news conference in Toronto. Canadian politicians and government officials were similarly reticent.
Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said that the two suspects had received “direction and guidance” from “Al Qaeda elements living in Iran,” but that there was no evidence that the effort had been sponsored by the government of Iran.
He declined to explain how the link to Al Qaeda had been made.
The suspects were identified as Chiheb Esseghaier, 35, who has been living in Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 30, of Toronto. The police said the men were not Canadian citizens, but declined to identify their nationalities or to describe their immigration status in Canada. (New York Times)
Indisputable Torture (By The Editorial Board) A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an independent, nonpartisan panel’s examination of the interrogation and detention programs carried out in their aftermath by the Bush administration may seem to be musty old business. But the sweeping report issued on Tuesday by an 11-member task force convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, provides a valuable, even necessary reckoning.
The work of the task force, led by two former congressmen — Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who served in the Bush administration as under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and James Jones, a Democrat, who was an ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton years — is informed by interviews with dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as with former prisoners.
It is the fullest independent effort so far to assess the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. Those who sanctioned the use of brutal methods, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, will continue to defend their use. But the report’s authoritative conclusion that “the United States engaged in the practice of torture” is impossible to dismiss by a public that needs to know what was committed in the nation’s name. (New York Times)
Living With Less. A Lot Less. I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.
I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ’90s, when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets.
Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual (not everyone gets an Internet windfall before turning 30), but my relationship with material things isn’t.
We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.
There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.
For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less. (New York Times)
Militants Seize Americans and Other Hostages in Algeria The French military assault on Islamist extremists in Mali escalated into a potentially much broader North African conflict on Wednesday when, in retribution, armed attackers in unmarked trucks seized an internationally managed natural gas field in neighboring Algeria and took at least 20 foreign hostages, including Americans.
Algerian officials said at least two people, including a Briton, were killed in the assault, which began with a predawn ambush on a bus trying to ferry gas-field workers to an airport. Hundreds of Algerian security forces were sent to surround the gas-field compound, creating a tense standoff, and the country’s interior minister said there would be no negotiations.
Algeria’s official news agency said at least 20 fighters had carried out the attack and mass abduction. There were unconfirmed reports late on Wednesday that the security forces had tried to storm the compound and had retreated under gunfire from the hostage takers. (New York Times)
Police Stop-and-Frisk Program in Bronx Is Ruled Unconstitutional An element of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge on Tuesday, a ruling that may have broad implications for the city’s widespread use of police stops as a crime-fighting tactic.
The decision, the first federal ruling to find that the practice under the Bloomberg administration violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, focused on police stops conducted in front of several thousand private residential buildings in the Bronx enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program. Property managers in that program have asked the police to patrol their buildings and to arrest trespassers.
But the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said officers were routinely stopping people outside the buildings without reasonable suspicion that they were trespassing.
“While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the N.Y.P.D. has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx,” Judge Scheindlin ruled. (New York Times)
Marijuana, Not Yet Legal for Californians, Might as Well Be -- Stigma Fading Marijuana Common in California Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug. Marijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California.
No matter that its recreational use remains technically against the law. Marijuana has, in many parts of this state, become the equivalent of a beer in a paper bag on the streets of Greenwich Village. It is losing whatever stigma it ever had and still has in many parts of the country, including New York City, where the kind of open marijuana use that is common here would attract the attention of any passing law officer.
“It’s shocking, from my perspective, the number of people that we all know who are recreational marijuana users,” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor. “These are incredibly upstanding citizens: Leaders in our community, and exceptional people. Increasingly, people are willing to share how they use it and not be ashamed of it.” (New York Times)
Police Dept. to Use Internet to Try to Stop Mass Shootings Top intelligence officials in the New York Police Department met on Thursday to examine ways to search the Internet to identify potential “deranged” gunmen before they strike, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said.
“The techniques would include cyber-searches of language that mass-casualty shooters have used in e-mails and Internet postings,” Mr. Kelly said in a statement. “The goal would be to identify the shooter in cyberspace, engage him there and intervene, possibly using an undercover to get close, and take him into custody or otherwise disrupt his plans.” (New York Times)
What’s Your Meme? Changing the Climate Change Conversation Yes we can! Ermahgerd. Occupy. I had a dream. Haters gonna hate. Tear down this wall! Gangnam Style. Drill, baby, drill.
We are constantly bombarded by memes in our daily lives. Some spontaneously flare up and then burn out as quickly as they appeared, while others stick around for decades. We hardly consider their presence, much less contemplate their possible influence on our lives.
Researchers in the emerging field of meme science are digging deeper, however, investigating how and why these sticky phrases or trends sink into our cultural psyche and subconsciously influence the way we process the world around us.
“Our goal is to introduce rigorous market research tools that have been developed for the corporate sector and apply them to the most pressing social issues in the world,” said Joe Brewer, co-founder of DarwinSF, a San Francisco-based company founded six months ago to help identify and spread memes that may influence significant global issues, starting with climate change. (New York Times)
A 'Party Drug' May Help the Brain Cope With Trauma Hundreds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress have recently contacted a husband-and-wife team who work in suburban South Carolina to seek help. Many are desperate, pleading for treatment and willing to travel to get it.
The soldiers have no interest in traditional talking cures or prescription drugs that have given them little relief. They are lining up to try an alternative: MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, a party drug that surfaced in the 1980s and ’90s that can induce pulses of euphoria and a radiating affection. Government regulators criminalized the drug in 1985, placing it on a list of prohibited substances that includes heroin and LSD. But in recent years, regulators have licensed a small number of labs to produce MDMA for research purposes.
“I feel survivor’s guilt, both for coming back from Iraq alive and now for having had a chance to do this therapy,” said Anthony, a 25-year-old living near Charleston, S.C., who asked that his last name not be used because of the stigma of taking the drug. “I’m a different person because of it.”
In a paper posted online Tuesday by the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Michael and Ann Mithoefer, the husband-and-wife team offering the treatment — which combines psychotherapy with a dose of MDMA — write that they found 15 of 21 people who recovered from severe post-traumatic stress in the therapy in the early 2000s reported minor to virtually no symptoms today. Many said they have received other kinds of therapy since then, but not with MDMA. (New York Times)
How to Cut Prison Costs Thanks in part to the federal Second Chance Act of 2008, states are finding creative ways to cut prison costs — now more than $52 billion a year nationwide — by making sure that people who are released from prison actually stay out.
The act, aimed at helping states and localities reduce recidivism, encourages changes like those that have already taken place in Kansas, Texas and Oregon. The states have expanded community-based drug treatment programs, improved postprison supervision and retooled parole systems that once shunted people back to jail not for actual crimes but for technical violations that are more cheaply and effectively dealt with through community-based sanctions like house arrest or mandatory drug treatment. (New York Times)
Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I. THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.
But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.
When an Oregon college student, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, thought of using a car bomb to attack a festive Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Portland, the F.B.I. provided a van loaded with six 55-gallon drums of “inert material,” harmless blasting caps, a detonator cord and a gallon of diesel fuel to make the van smell flammable. An undercover F.B.I. agent even did the driving, with Mr. Mohamud in the passenger seat. To trigger the bomb the student punched a number into a cellphone and got no boom, only a bust.
This is legal, but is it legitimate? Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps (New York Times)
Is This the End of Market Democracy? The 2012 election will offer voters a stark choice between right and left alternatives.
President Obama is calling for:
investing in things like education that gives everybody a chance to succeed. A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share. And laws that make sure everybody follows the rules. That’s what will transform our economy. That’s what will grow our middle class again.
Republicans, in turn, are denouncing the expansion of a Democratic “entitlement society” and what they see as a trend toward European social democracy. They are calling for sharply reduced taxes, regulation and government spending to free market forces and revive private sector economic growth.
While Americans are going to be able to choose between two contrasting ideologies, what if both choices are off the mark? What if the legitimacy of free market capitalism in America is facing fundamental challenges that the candidates and their parties are not addressing?
Here are some of the issues that are making some politicians and political thinkers uneasy:
Are large segments of the American workforce — millions of people — at a structural disadvantage in the face of global competition, technological advance and ever more sophisticated forms of automation? Is this situation permanent?
Will the share of profits from improving corporate productivity flowing to capital and to high-earning C.E.O.s continue to grow, while the income of wage earners stagnates and their share of profits declines?
Has the surging wealth and income of the top one percent and of the top 0.1 percent reached a tipping point at which the political leverage of the very affluent decisively outweighs the influence of the electorate at large?
Is it possible that in the United States and Europe, democratic free market capitalism is no longer capable of providing broadly shared benefits to a solid majority of workers? (New York Times)
Mindful Eating as Food for Thought TRY this: place a forkful of food in your mouth. It doesn’t matter what the food is, but make it something you love — let’s say it’s that first nibble from three hot, fragrant, perfectly cooked ravioli.
Now comes the hard part. Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry.
Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.
Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.
The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating. (New York Times)
More Money Can Beat Big Money Nine senators introduced a resolution early this month that would amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and Buckley v. Valeo (1976). These two cases had restricted Congress’s power to limit contributions to political campaigns and independent political expenditures, by both individuals and corporations. Under the amendment, Congress and the states would have the power to limit both contributions and independent expenditures.
“By limiting the influence of big money in politics,” said one of the senators, Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, “elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets. We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy.”
This proposal is just the latest verse in a very tired song. Once again, the answer to the problem of campaign finance is to “just say no.” Limit contributions. Limit independent expenditures. Limit soft money donations. No, no, no. (New York Times)
The New Progressive Movement (Opinion) OCCUPY WALL STREET and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.
Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.
Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue — the rise of global competition in the information age — and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on, America pays the price of that misdiagnosis, with a nation singularly unprepared to face the global economic, energy and environmental challenges of our time. (New York Times)
The Inequality Map Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”
Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”
This is an excellent question. I will provide you with a guide to the American inequality map to help you avoid embarrassment.
Academic inequality is socially acceptable. It is perfectly fine to demonstrate that you are in the academic top 1 percent by wearing a Princeton, Harvard or Stanford sweatshirt.
Ancestor inequality is not socially acceptable. It is not permissible to go around bragging that your family came over on the Mayflower and that you are descended from generations of Throgmorton-Winthrops who bequeathed a legacy of good breeding and fine manners. (New York Times)
The Road Ahead for Occupy Wall Street To the Editor: Bill Keller misses the point of the Occupy Wall Street movement. An amalgam of issues motivates the millions of people throughout the country who have identified with the effort.
Their number includes students in debt for educations that do not lead to employment, homeowners whose property is underwater, individuals whose retirement savings are suddenly at risk, voters who see that those they elect tend to the needs of a constituency of which they are not a part, and people who see that the financial “experts” whose machinations brought down the economy are not held accountable.
These are Americans who deserve better than to be piously mocked for their lack of leadership and a constrained agenda. The incestuous liaison between financial power and elected politicians is the issue. Those who are a part of that partnership should take note that if elections don’t count and demonstrations are ignored, the Occupy movement may include civil disobedience or worse. (New York Times)
Occupy-apalooza Strikes a Chord Thursday night I spoke to a young woman in Brooklyn who was having dinner and planning the next day. Between a morning boot camp workout at the local Y.M.C.A. and an evening meeting with friends for drinks, she was planning her first trek to Zuccotti Park to take part in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“Why?” I asked. “What specifically are you protesting?” I was curious. I hoped that she’d respond with some variation of the umbrella arguments about income inequality, the evils of corporate greed and corruption or removing corporate money from politics.
She didn’t. “I don’t know. It’s just cool,” she said. She went on to tell me about how she felt that this was a movement of people with whom she felt some kinship, banding together and making history, and that she wanted to be a part of that in the same way that people from previous generations were part of the civil rights, women’s liberation and antiwar movements. (New York Times)
In Protest, the Power of Place THE ever expanding Occupy Wall Street movement, with encampments now not only in Lower Manhattan but also in Washington, London and other cities, proves among other things that no matter how instrumental new media have become in spreading protest these days, nothing replaces people taking to the streets.
Another reminder came late last week when the landlord of Zuccotti Park, where the demonstrators in New York City have settled, at the last minute withdrew a request for police assistance in cleaning up the park. This, at least temporarily, averted a confrontation in front of the global media over what protesters regarded as just a pretext to evict them.
We tend to underestimate the political power of physical places. Then Tahrir Square comes along. Now it’s Zuccotti Park, until four weeks ago an utterly obscure city-block-size downtown plaza with a few trees and concrete benches, around the corner from ground zero and two blocks north of Wall Street on Broadway. A few hundred people with ponchos and sleeping bags have put it on the map.
Kent State, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall: we clearly use locales, edifices, architecture to house our memories and political energy. Politics troubles our consciences. But places haunt our imaginations. (New York Times)
Stop Coddling the Super-Rich OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent. (New York Times)
Why Voters Tune Out Democrats BARACK OBAMA can’t catch a break from the American public on the economy, even though he prevented a depression and saved global capitalism.
Perhaps the president finds solace in knowing he’s not alone. During this period of economic crisis and uncertainty, voters are generally turning to conservative and right-wing political parties, most notably in Europe and in Canada.
It’s perplexing. When unemployment is high, and the rich are getting richer, you would think that voters of average means would flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind — and who historically have delivered for them.
During the last half-century or so, when a Democratic president has led the country, people have tended to experience lower unemployment, less inequality and rising income compared with periods of Republican governance. There is a reason, however, that many voters in the developed world are turning away from Democrats, Socialists, liberals and progressives.
My vantage point on voter behavior comes through my company, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and its work for center-left parties globally, starting with Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992. For the last decade, I have worked in partnership with James Carville conducting monthly polls digging into America’s mood and studying how progressives can develop successful electoral strategies. (I am also married to a Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut, Rosa L. DeLauro.) (New York Times)
Nuclear Plant’s Vital Equipment Dry, Officials Say When safety regulators arrive for a tour of a nuclear plant, the operators usually give the visitors a helmet, safety glasses and earplugs. When Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, got to the Fort Calhoun plant on Monday morning, the Omaha Public Power District offered him a life jacket.
Technically, what the plant is undergoing is not a flood but a “water event,” as the regulatory commission classifies it. But Fort Calhoun has clearly been outflanked by the Missouri River, first at its front door and now at its back door as well. The only access route to the plant is over a sinuous path of catwalks built over the submerged parking lot and walkways in recent weeks.
Vital equipment like generators, pumps and controls are dry, according to the power company and to Mr. Jaczko, who spent a couple of hours clambering over walls of sandbags and inspecting waterproof barriers, some of which were added in recent months at the commission’s insistence. - “We’ve had water at nuclear plants before, but this is the only time we can recall it to this extent or duration,” said Jeffrey Clark, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff member from the regional office in Arlington, Tex., who arrived here on June 9 for a quick look around but then stayed on.
The river is not expected to get substantially higher, but it may not get lower anytime soon, either. On Monday morning, Mr. Jaczko met with the Army Corps of Engineers but did not get a great deal of encouragement. (New York Times)
Free to Search and Seize THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.
In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.
None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century, when the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was applied to the states, unconstitutionally seized evidence was ruled inadmissible in state trials, and privacy laws were enacted following revelations in the 1970s of domestic spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.
For over a decade now, the government has tried to make us more secure by chipping away at the one provision of the Bill of Rights that pivots on the word “secure” — the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” (New York Times)
Overlooking Oversight In late May, Congress extended three enhanced surveillance powers that were granted to the government after the 9/11 attacks — two in the Patriot Act and one from a related intelligence law. In doing so, lawmakers neatly managed to avoid any lapse in those powers. They failed miserably in their duty to carefully re-examine the provisions, trim back excesses, and add safeguards to protect civil liberties. In other words, they ignored the whole point of requiring that the provisions be periodically reviewed.
One of the renewed provisions permits a roving wiretap on terrorism suspects who switch phone numbers or providers. While this is a useful tool, the lax rules for specifying who is the subject of the wiretap could invite abuse. Another provision permits the government to examine library, bookstore and business records without having to show that the material is related to a terrorism investigation. (New York Times)
Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that broke along ideological lines, described a prison system that failed to deliver minimal care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems and produced “needless suffering and death.”
Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed vigorous dissents. Justice Scalia called the order affirmed by the majority “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.” Justice Alito said “the majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California.”
The majority opinion included photographs of inmates crowded into open gymnasium-style rooms and what Justice Kennedy described as “telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets” used to house suicidal inmates. Suicide rates in the state’s prisons, Justice Kennedy wrote, have been 80 percent higher than the average for inmates nationwide. A lower court in the case said it was “an uncontested fact” that “an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.”
Monday’s ruling in the case, Brown v. Plata, No. 09-1233, affirmed an order by a special three-judge federal court requiring state officials to reduce the prison population to 110,000, which is 137.5 percent of the system’s capacity. There have been more than 160,000 inmates in the system in recent years, and there are now more than 140,000.
Prison release orders are rare and hard to obtain, and even advocates for prisoners’ rights said Monday’s decision was unlikely to have a significant impact around the nation.
“California is an extreme case by any measure,” said David C. Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, which submitted a brief urging the justices to uphold the lower court’s order. “This case involves ongoing, undisputed and lethal constitutional violations. We’re not going to see a lot of copycat litigation.”
State officials in California will have two years to comply with the order, and they may ask for more time. Justice Kennedy emphasized that the reduction in population need not be achieved solely by releasing prisoners early. Among the other possibilities, he said, are new construction, transfers out of state and using county facilities. (New York Times)
Life and the Cosmos, Word by Painstaking Word Like Einstein, he is as famous for his story as for his science.
At the age of 21, the British physicist Stephen Hawking was found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. While A.L.S. is usually fatal within five years, Dr. Hawking lived on and flourished, producing some of the most important cosmological research of his time.
In the 1960s, with Sir Roger Penrose, he used mathematics to explicate the properties of black holes. In 1973, he applied Einstein’s general theory of relativity to the principles of quantum mechanics. And he showed that black holes were not completely black but could leak radiation and eventually explode and disappear, a finding that is still reverberating through physics and cosmology. - Q. Speaking of space: Earlier this week, your daughter, Lucy, and Paul Davies, the Arizona State University physicist, sent a message into space from an Arizona schoolchild to potential extraterrestrials out there in the universe. Now, you’ve said elsewhere that you think it’s a bad idea for humans to make contact with other forms of life. Given this, did you suggest to Lucy that she not do it? Hypothetically, let’s say as a fantasy, if you were to send such a message into space, how would it read?
A. Previously I have said it would be a bad idea to contact aliens because they might be so greatly advanced compared to us, that our civilization might not survive the experience. The “Dear Aliens” competition is based on a different premise.
It assumes that an intelligent extraterrestrial life form has already made contact with us and we need to formulate a reply. The competition asks school-age students to think creatively and scientifically in order to find a way to explain human life on this planet to some inquisitive aliens. I have no doubt that if we are ever contacted by such beings, we would want to respond.
I also think it is an interesting question to pose to young people as it requires them to think about the human race and our planet as a whole. It asks students to define who we are and what we have done. (New York Times)
Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry In the fall of 2007, workers at the Byron nuclear power plant in Illinois were using a wire brush to clean a badly corroded steel pipe — one in a series that circulate cooling water to essential emergency equipment — when something unexpected happened: the brush poked through.
The resulting leak caused a 12-day shutdown of the two reactors for repairs.
The plant’s owner, the Exelon Corporation, had long known that corrosion was thinning most of these pipes. But rather than fix them, it repeatedly lowered the minimum thickness it deemed safe. By the time the pipe broke, Exelon had declared that pipe walls just three-hundredths of an inch thick — less than one-tenth the original minimum thickness — would be good enough.
Though no radioactive material was released, safety experts say that if enough pipes had ruptured during a reactor accident, the result could easily have been a nuclear catastrophe at a plant just 100 miles west of Chicago.
Exelon’s risky decisions occurred under the noses of on-site inspectors from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No documented inspection of the pipes was made by anyone from the N.R.C. for at least the eight years preceding the leak, and the agency also failed to notice that Exelon kept lowering the acceptable standard, according to a subsequent investigation by the commission’s inspector general. (New York Times)
C.I.A. Agents in Libya Aid Airstrikes and Meet Rebels The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.
While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.
In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.
American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.
In addition, the American spies are meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi, said United States government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities. American officials cautioned, though, that the Western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces. (New York Times)
Billionaire Brothers' Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights.
The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits.
“We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch. (New York Times)
Watching Protesters Risk It All As democracy protests spread across the Middle East, we as journalists struggle to convey the sights and sounds, the religion and politics. But there’s one central element that we can’t even begin to capture: the raw courage of men and women — some of them just teenagers — who risk torture, beatings and even death because they want freedoms that we take for granted.
Here in Bahrain on Saturday, I felt almost physically ill as I watched a column of pro-democracy marchers approach the Pearl Roundabout, the spiritual center of their movement. One day earlier, troops had opened fire on marchers there, with live ammunition and without any warning. So I flinched and braced myself to watch them die. - To me, this feels like the Arab version of 1776. And don’t buy into the pernicious whisper campaign from dictators that a more democratic Middle East will be fundamentalist, anti-American or anti-women. For starters, there have been plenty of women on the streets demanding change (incredibly strong women, too!).
For decades, the United States embraced corrupt and repressive autocracies across the Middle East, turning a blind eye to torture and repression in part because of fear that the “democratic rabble” might be hostile to us. Far too often, we were both myopic and just plain on the wrong side. (New York Times)
A Monopoly on Cheating I HATE cheats. They cut the line and snatch the bargain. They sweet-talk the customer service rep into bending the rules. They count cards and win the raffle with some sneaky ticket placement. They are the 100th caller every time. They trick you on mileage or square footage and bribe their way up the organ transplant list. They pump and dump their stocks, their families, their friends. They get ahead and they win. We lose. Then they explain ever so condescendingly that it’s not a zero-sum game.
I never cheated much as a child, not on tests or papers, not at Go Fish or poker or even board games like Sorry or Risk. It’s been the same since. I pay my taxes, under-claim expenses, give mistaken change back to the cashier. I don’t lie on applications. I’d probably fill out my own death warrant with civic-minded meticulousness.
I’m not bragging. I find this part of me repellent. I’m not noble or good. I’m adult enough to know that the victories of cheats don’t feel hollow to them. They live happy lives. They don’t think they are cheats. They consider themselves warriors of life. (New York Times)
A Clear Danger to Free Speech THE so-called Shield bill, which was recently introduced in both houses of Congress in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, would amend the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a crime for any person knowingly and willfully to disseminate, “in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States,” any classified information “concerning the human intelligence activities of the United States.”
Although this proposed law may be constitutional as applied to government employees who unlawfully leak such material to people who are unauthorized to receive it, it would plainly violate the First Amendment to punish anyone who might publish or otherwise circulate the information after it has been leaked. At the very least, the act must be expressly limited to situations in which the spread of the classified information poses a clear and imminent danger of grave harm to the nation.
The clear and present danger standard has been a central element of our First Amendment jurisprudence ever since Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919 opinion in Schenk v. United States. In the 90 years since, the precise meaning of “clear and present danger” has evolved, but the animating principle was stated brilliantly by Justice Louis D. Brandeis in his 1927 concurring opinion in Whitney v. California. The founders “did not exalt order at the cost of liberty,” wrote Brandeis; on the contrary, they understood that “only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such ... is the command of the Constitution. It is, therefore, always open to Americans to challenge a law abridging free speech and assembly by showing that there was no emergency justifying it.” (New York Times)
Rep. Ron Paul, G.O.P. Loner, Comes In From Cold As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’s disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Representative Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”
For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “Al Qaeda’s favorite member of Congress.”
It was hardly the first time that Mr. Paul had marched to his own beat. During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, he was best remembered for declaring in a debate that the 9/11 attacks were the Muslim world’s response to American military intervention around the globe. A fellow candidate, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, interrupted and demanded that he take back the words — a request that Mr. Paul refused.
During his 20 years in Congress, Mr. Paul has staked out the lonely end of 434-to-1 votes against legislation that he considers unconstitutional, even on issues as ceremonial as granting Mother Teresa a Congressional Gold Medal. His colleagues have dubbed him “Dr. No,” but his wife will insist that they have the spelling wrong: he is really Dr. Know.
Now it appears others are beginning to credit him with some wisdom — or at least acknowledging his passionate following. (New York Times)
Obama Visits a Nation That Knew Him as Barry The two houses where he spent part of his boyhood stand pretty much the way they did when he went back to Hawaii four decades ago. The two schools he attended have grown larger but, in spirit, remain unchanged. Some of his old friends can still be found around the neighborhood.
Near one of his homes here, the same family still runs a wooden stall selling gado-gado, an Indonesian salad covered in peanut sauce. Agus Salam, who took over the business from his mother years ago, played soccer with the American boy everybody here called Barry.
“His house — all the houses around here — haven’t changed,” said Mr. Salam, 56.
When President Obama visits Jakarta on Tuesday, he will find a city that, in some ways, has changed beyond recognition. A city of one luxury hotel and one shopping mall when Mr. Obama lived here between 1967 and 1971, Jakarta is now the overextended and overcrowded capital of the world’s fourth most populous nation. But Jakarta’s neighborhoods, including the two where Mr. Obama lived, retain enough of their former selves that the president would quickly find his bearings. (New York Times)
End the War on Pot I dropped in on a marijuana shop here that proudly boasted that it sells “31 flavors.” It also offered a loyalty program. For every 10 purchases of pot — supposedly for medical uses — you get one free packet.
“There are five of these shops within a three-block radius,” explained the proprietor, Edward J. Kim. He brimmed with pride at his inventory and sounded like any small businessman as he complained about onerous government regulation. Like, well, state and federal laws.
But those burdensome regulations are already evaporating in California, where anyone who can fake a headache already can buy pot. Now there’s a significant chance that on Tuesday, California voters will choose to go further and broadly legalize marijuana.
I hope so. Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach. Sure, there are risks if California legalizes pot. But our present drug policy has three catastrophic consequences. (New York Times)
Pentagon Will Help Homeland Security Department Fight Domestic Cyberattacks The Obama administration has adopted new procedures for using the Defense Department’s vast array of cyberwarfare capabilities in case of an attack on vital computer networks inside the United States, delicately navigating historic rules that restrict military action on American soil.
The system would mirror that used when the military is called on in natural disasters like hurricanes or wildfires. A presidential order dispatches the military forces, working under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Under the new rules, the president would approve the use of the military’s expertise in computer-network warfare, and the Department of Homeland Security would direct the work. (New York Times)
Third Party Rising by Thomas Friedman - A friend in the U.S. military sent me an e-mail last week with a quote from the historian Lewis Mumford’s book, “The Condition of Man,” about the development of civilization. Mumford was describing Rome’s decline: “Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”
It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine — way, way too close for comfort.
I’ve just spent a week in Silicon Valley, talking with technologists from Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, Cisco and SRI and can definitively report that this region has not lost its “inner go.” But in talks here and elsewhere I continue to be astounded by the level of disgust with Washington, D.C., and our two-party system — so much so that I am ready to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome. (New York Times)
C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.
The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani troops have also been diverted from counterinsurgency missions to help provide relief to victims of the country’s massive flooding. (New York Times)
U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.
Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.
The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally. (New York Times)
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