James Clapper Hates You

James ClapperDirector of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke to a “defense and intelligence contractor trade group” on Tuesday. And he said something that I thought was very interesting about the Edward Snowden leaks, “I think it’s clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen.” From the reporter’s standpoint, that’s the money quote. But I think that’s being far too charitable and, to be blunt, naive.

Just on the most obvious level, what do you expect Clapper to say? He isn’t going to say that the leaks were the worst thing ever and that if we had any sense we’d fire him. Instead, he’s going to talk on all sides of the issue. After saying that we needed to have this discussion, he said that this doesn’t take away from just how horrible the Snowden revelations are. According to the article, “The ‘continuous stream of revelations’ that has appeared in U.S. and British newspapers has damaged national security, and is far from over, Clapper said.” All of this is standard surveillance state propaganda.

What bothers me a lot more if how Clapper implies that there is some kind of perfect leak. Snowden could have leaked documents that would have started the debate, but not ones that “damaged national security.” That is such a load of crap. It is just like Obama saying that we ought to have a debate before anyone knew who Snowden was. Sure: pretty words. But we weren’t having that debate. In fact, we couldn’t have that debate. It’s like having a discussion with your doctor about a health problem you have. If he refuses to tell you what the problem is, it is hard to have a real discussion. Is it an ingrown toenail or cancer? It really does matter.

So the government (it doesn’t matter what the administration is) wants us to have a conversation about our privacy. But they don’t want us to know that they are processing all of our electronic communications. That would damage national security! They don’t want us to know that the spying agencies screw up and infringe on citizens’ privacy all the time—including times where rogue agents spy on people for their own personal reasons. That would damage national security! They don’t want us to know that the high tech world has rolled over and allowed the agencies to put back doors in all their products. That would damage national security!

So what do they want? They want a very public conversation where people say, “We’re worried about our privacy and the acts of the government to infringe upon it.” And then they will say, “But we would never do that!” And the conversation would be over. There is no more to be said. The people couldn’t say, “Then why are you collecting all of our data?” Because the people wouldn’t know they were collecting all our data. And that’s the way the government wants it. They want us in the dark so that we will be compliant.

So when you hear James Clapper or anyone else in any administration talk about “welcoming debate,” just file it under “Yet More Government Bullshit.” All they want to do is cover their own asses and maintain what power and privilege they have.The more information we have, the less powerful they are. And that is not acceptable to them.

Afterword

To be fair to these people, they think they are keeping us “safe.” And it is certainly true that it is safer for them to run an authoritarian state where no terror attacks happen than a free state where they do. But I’m not even sure that their authoritarian methods do make us safe. Every time there is a plot uncovered, it turns out to be nothing more than one agency or another manipulating vulnerable people into using fake weapons that the government provides to try to do something nasty. If the government really is stopping major plots, where are they? If they existed, they would be trotted out all the time. Instead, we get nothing. The surveillance state exists only to keep itself growing. And regardless of how people like James Clapper self-justify, they are still evil men.

The First, the Last, Barry White

Barry WhiteOn this day in 1688, the sculptor Ferdinand Brokoff was born. Inventor of the rotary press, Richard March Hoe was born in 1812. The inventor of the Gatling gun, Richard Jordan Gatling was born in 1818. And so was Romantic composer Theodor Kullak. Here is his Piano Concerto in C Minor:

The great H. L. Mencken was born in 1880. Maurice Chevalier was born in 1888. Here he is doing “Louise”:

Comedian Billy Gilbert was born in 1894. Artist Ben Shahn was born in 1898. And country music legend George Jones was born in 1931. Here he is doing his mega-hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today”:

The great actor Ian Holm is 82 today. (He looks really good!) He’s done so much great work, but I really can’t find a decent scene to show you. Native American activist Leonard Peltier is 69 today. I don’t think the government will ever let him out of prison alive. And certainly don’t depend upon coward Obama to pardon him.

Actor Joe Pantoliano is 62. He is so smart that he got in The Matrix without having to do any wire work. Gerry Beckley of the band America is 61. Film music composer Hans Zimmer is 56. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that he has written the score to every action film since 1990. And they all sound exactly the same. And he’s been hugely influential. Now most film scores suck. And comedian Louis C.K. is 46. I’m not that fond of him, but this bit on white privilege is great:

The day, however, belongs to one of my favorite musicians, Barry White who was born in 1944. He had a great voice, of course; but more than that, he was a great songwriter and producer. Here he is doing one of his lesser known hit songs, “What Am I Gonna Do With You”:

Happy birthday Barry White!

Chipotle’s Scarecrow

ChipotleThe following commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill is really great. I say this in terms of pure entertainment; it is a work of art: sweet, sentimental, smart. But it is also great advertising. Look: I understand. It is actually an ad for some Chipotle game, which is itself an ad for the restaurant. But it really worked for me.

Look: I hate Chipotle. That kind of Tex-Mex food is an abomination. Who thinks it’s good? But then I thought: that commercial didn’t seem like an ad for kind of place that I’ve been. Also, for the first time I read its whole name: Chipotle Mexican Grill. Well, I love Mexican food. And that’s when I realized that I had never actually eaten at a Chipotle’s restaurant. It was that other restaurant that has a chili in its logo: Chili’s Grill & Bar. Which sucks. Did I mention that?

So now I will have to give Chipotle’s a try. But regardless, this video is totally great:

H/T: Matt Yglesias

The Coming Domestic Crises

John BoehnerThe crisis is over, long live the crisis! Jonathan Chait reminds the world that now that the Syria crisis is fading into the background of negotiations that don’t make for great headlines, we have the old crises that I’ve been quite actively fretting about since a couple of days after the last election. And things look really, really bad.

Let’s just talk about the government shutdown for now, because as bad as it is, the Debt Ceiling is far worse. Boehner is not willing to allow a vote on anything that might get bipartisan support. So any bill that goes through the House must pass with only Republican votes. So Boehner came up with an idea that depended upon the hardcore House Republicans to be stupid and crazy. Unfortunately, they are way more crazy than stupid. The idea was that the House would bundle two bills together. One would be the continuing resolution (CR)—just a bill that says that Congress will continue to fund the government as it has been. The other would be the defunding of the evil Kenyan Communist plot to allow people to get healthcare, also known as Obamacare.

The problem with this plan was that the Senate would approve the CR and ditch the Obamacare kill bill. As Mike Lee put it, “It is not a plan to defund Obamacare—it’s a plan to facilitate the passage of a CR in a way that allows people to claim that they’re defunding Obamacare without actually doing so.” So what Boehner was offering was the opportunity to vote impotently to defund Obamacare for the 41st time in exchange to doing what in normal times would be the most uncomplicated of things. This is because the modern Republican party doesn’t think that anything is as important as the conservative issue de jour. And yes, it does make them unpatriotic; what else would you call a man who thinks that his pet issue is worth destroying the economy and throwing millions more of his fellow Americans out of work?

Given that the Republicans aren’t buying what John Boehner is selling, there is chaos. But not to worry. The House has plenty of time! According to Eric Cantor’s calendar (pdf), the House is not working until next Tuesday. Then they have three and a half days of work and then go on recess for the rest of the month. But after Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to shame the House for the move, Boehner called off the recess. So now they have eight or nine work days before the government shuts down!

I’m not sure what more time will bring. The House must pass a CR by the end of the month. The hardcore House Republicans are not going to be convinced by some great idea that Boehner comes up with. So this is all going to come down to the last minute when Boehner either does or does not allow a CR to pass with bipartisan support. If he does, we move on to the much more dangerous Debt Ceiling. (We have two weeks for that!) If he doesn’t, the government shuts down, anger builds, the Boehner allows a CR to pass with bipartisan support. I really don’t see any other way forward on this.

I’m not convinced that a government shutdown will hurt the Republicans that much in 2014. But if they cause a Debt Ceiling crisis, I suspect that the elites will punish them in a big way. They will finally see that keeping their marginal tax rates down by an extra couple of percentage points is not worth the harvest they have sown. And that would be catastrophic for the Republican Party as a going concern. But it will be a hell of a price for the American people to pay.

North Carolinians Get to Rue Vote for Three and a Half More Years

Pat McCroryPat McCrory is the current governor of North Carolina. He is a Republican and of course, North Carolina is not an especially liberal state. But it is not Mississippi either. In recent years, it has become known as a purple state. As a result of that, when McCrory was running for office, he appealed to moderates by claiming that he would not sign any new bills that limited abortion access. And then, just over 6 months into his term (30 July 2013), he signed a bill that limited abortion access.

As much as cynics will tell you that politicians always break their promises, that simply isn’t true. Modern politicians are actually quite careful about following through with their campaign promises. Of course, as voters, we need to be careful with what exactly politicians say. Because they know how carefully they are watched, they will say things like, “I will introduce a bill to build an interstellar spaceship.” They don’t claim that they will make it law, much less that they will get the spaceship built. So it really is a big deal when politicians break their promises.

So it comes as no surprise that Pat McCrory has seen his approval ratings plummet. According to Public Policy Polling, his approval rating has gone down to just 35% with 53% disapproval. And the support has been lost across the board. His approval with Republicans has fallen from 69% to 62%. Most of the drop in approval over the last month is not about the abortion bill. As of a month ago, all liberal and moderate voters had abandoned him. And now his approval/disapproval rating is 9/82 among Democrats and 29/49 among independents. But the overall disapproval is about the abortion bill. As you can see, he still has high approval ratings among Republicans.

Of course, McCrory doesn’t admit to breaking the promise to not limit access to abortion. After signing the bill, he released a statement, “This law does not further limit access, and those who contend it does are more interested in politics than the health and safety of our citizens.” But we know even he doesn’t believe that. When the bill was first passed by the legislature, he indicated that he would veto it. So minor changes were made to allow him wiggle room, and he signed it. Voters know when they are being finessed. And they don’t like it. I think he would be liked more if he just admitted what he did.

But here’s the thing. We see this again and again. Moderate populations vote in Republicans who claim that they will govern moderately. And right out of the gate, the Republicans show that their notions of “moderation” are quite different from the voters’. For example, most people in North Carolina thought that not limiting access to abortion meant that no clinics would be closed. McCrory, on the other hand, thought it meant not all clinics would be closed. (BTW: even that isn’t clear.) My question to my fellow Americans is this: when are you going to stop falling for this? North Carolina is stuck with McCrory for another three and a half years!

The ultimate law of voting: “If you elect a Republican, you elect a Republican.”

Disingenuous Technocrats

Rich Uncle PennybagsI think Paul Krugman is being coy this morning. He talks about various technocratic institutions—European Commission, Bank for International Settlements, OECD—that have pushed policies that go entirely against standard economic models. These are theories like, “Cutting government spending won’t cause the economy to contract but rather made businesses confident and cause a burst of investment!” Ideas like this go exactly against what we know about economics. As Krugman puts it, “I guess we should just call these people crats, since the techno got thrown out the window and replaced by intuition, or something.”

But this is not what’s going on. All the ideas of “expansionary austerity” are nothing more than covers. They are presented as a way to justify policies that those pushing them want for different reasons. And it is clear what those different reasons are. These people do not like the welfare state. They are the rich and they are looking out for the interests of the rich.

This is very much like Matt Yglesias’ great example of Quaker budget hawks. If the government went on to balance the budget without cutting the military and the Quakers complained that wasn’t acceptable, then we would all agree that they didn’t care about the budget, just about cutting defense spending. But somehow when almost all budget hawks turn out to only be interested in cutting spending on the poor, they aren’t publicly shamed for their obvious disingenuousness.

We saw this quite explicitly last week when Olli Rehn complained that France wasn’t balancing its budget the right way. You see, France has been raising taxes. Now, normally people would think that was fine. If a person is in debt, he can either cut his spending or make more money, say, with a second job. It really doesn’t matter. With governments, the argument for taxes over spending cuts is even stronger—especially in a depressed economy. Cuts to spending cut that exact amount out of the economy. Raising taxes take most but not all of that money out of the economy. (For the record: both are bad ideas in a depressed economy.)

Krugman knows all this, of course. He was one of the people who called out Rehn for his nonsense. But it may be a bridge too far for him to claim that all of these institutions are disingenuous. But I don’t see how else you explain it. I’m sure that most of the top people at these places have convinced themselves that what is best for themselves and their rich friends conveniently is best for everyone. But just because they have come to believe their own lies doesn’t mean we should let them off the hook.