Posts tagged ‘Associated Press’

Cost and Benefit and the Fourth Ammendment

From Reuters via Zero Hedge:

The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier, reopening the debate over privacy even as it defended the practice as necessary to protect Americans against attack.

The admission comes after the Guardian newspaper published a secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.

A senior administration official said the court order pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers' identities or the content of the telephone calls.

Such information is "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official said, speaking on the condition of not being named.

"It allows counter terrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official added.

The revelation raises fresh concerns about President Barack Obama's handling of privacy and free speech issues. His administration is already under fire for searching Associated Press journalists' calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter as part of its inquiries into leaked government information.

A few thoughts:

  1. I have no doubt that this makes the job of tracking terrorists easier.  So would the ability to break down any door anywhere and do random house searches without a warrant.  The issue is not effectiveness, but the cost in terms of lost liberty and the potential for abuse.  The IRS scandal should remind us how easy it is to use government power to harass political enemies and out-groups
  2. The FISA court is a bad joke, as it seems willing to issue "all information on all people" warrants.  I think there is little doubt that similar data gathering is going on at all the other carriers.
  3. Luckily, Susan Rice is now the National Security Adviser.  I am sure with her proven history of not just being a political puppet but really digging in to challenge White House talking points that she will quickly get to the bottom of this.

Spying on the Press

Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.

You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack.  This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism.  I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me.  This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.

Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference.  Wow.  Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.

Update:  Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald

how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".

But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.

The Power of Consumer Shopping

The act of shopping is often denigrated by the literati as shallow and self-indulgent.  But shopping is at the very heart of why a free market works.  It enforces discipline on suppliers because they buyers will be comparing their price and quality and feature set to their competitors.

In health care, we have all but ended the act of consumer shopping.  Most of our medical expenses are paid by third parties, and we are just not very careful when spending other people's money.  These third parties sometimes try to be diligent about what we pay, but it is a losing task and in doing so they end up irritating everyone.

And thus, we get this:

You can find it on the Internet for $250 or less. But if Medicare is paying, a standard-issue brace for back patients costs more than $900.

In a report expected Wednesday, federal investigators say Medicare paid an average of $919 for back braces that cost suppliers $191 apiece, providing a window on how wasteful spending drives up health care costs.

“The program and its beneficiaries could have paid millions of dollars less if the Medicare reimbursement amount … more closely resembled the cost to suppliers,” says the report from the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department. The Associated Press obtained a copy.

I discuss the phenomenon in health care more in this part 1 on a three part series I wrote at Forbes

Journalistic Ethics

This is an interesting story on the AP and journalistic ethics

The Associated Press purchased an advanced copy of the book. It is set for release on Nov. 15.

Let's start with the second paragraph.  It's a lie, pure and simple--and the papers that reprinted the stories know it.  Giffords didn't sell any "advanced copy" of the book.  The book is strictly embargoed so that she can control the timing of the media stories that surround it.  Bookstores, however, have copies locked up in storage rooms so the copies can all be put on the shelves at the same time.  Someone stole one of those copies...or perhaps stole a proof text from the publisher...and then sold it to the Associated Press.

Rather than admit that they illegally purchased and then printed excerpts from a stolen copy, the Associated Press lied and said that they "purchased an advanced copy of the book."  That would be a big story by itself, but the newspapers that have contracts with the AP didn't want to blow a good story, so that meekly reprinted the lie.

What's worse is that the AP not only stole Giffords' book and disrupted the timing of her planned roll out...they botched the story and made Giffords issue a denial. ...

...faced with an ambiguous quote in a stolen book and no chance to verify it, the AP did just what they teach you in the ethics classes in Journalism school...they ran with the most tantalizing, headline grabbing interpretation and then made Gabby deny it.  Nice.

Our Arizona Governor is Truly Lame

Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has been insisting for MONTHS that immigrants have been beheading people in the desert.  I wrote about it here,  shande doubled down on the claim in way back in June.   She repeated the claim on a televised debate the other day, and got all the national attention on this idiotic claim that she deserves.  She has reiterated this close-to-outright-racist-paranoid-fantasy any number of times through the whole summer.  So it is grossly disingenuous for her suddenly to act like it was a one-time mis-statement:

Gov. Jan Brewer rose to national fame defending the state's immigration law and warning of rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a claim that headless bodies were turning up in the Arizona desert.

But the claim has come back to haunt her after her stammering debate performance in which she failed to back it up and ignored repeated questions on the issue from a scrum of reporters.

Brewer has spent the time since backtracking and trying to repair the damage done from her cringe-worthy debate against underdog challenger Terry Goddard.

"That was an error, if I said that," the Republican told the Associated Press on Friday. "I misspoke, but you know, let me be clear, I am concerned about the border region because it continues to be reported in Mexico that there's a lot of violence going on and we don't want that going into Arizona."

That is as craven and mendacious a response as I have ever heard from a politician, and that is saying a lot (it had to be, to bet me worked up enough to blog from a seaside resort in Italy).

The Organization of No

Government bureaucracies do not exercise power by allowing activities to occur - they only have power, and thus have reason to justify their continued funding and jobs, when they say no.   Every incentive that they have is to say no.  When a government agency allows progress to proceed smoothly, it is doing so because some person or small group is fighting against the very nature of the organization.  Anyone who believes otherwise about government agencies is challenged to go build and open a new restaurant in Ventura County, California.  Here is the latest example:

The [weatherizing] program was a hallmark of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a way to shore up the economy while encouraging people to conserve energy at home. But government rules about how to run what was deemed to be a ''shovel-ready'' project, including how much to pay contractors and how to protect historic homes during renovations, have thwarted chances at early success, according to an Associated Press review of the program.

''It seems like every day there is a new wrench in the works that keeps us from moving ahead,'' said program manager Joanne Chappell-Theunissen. She has spent the past several months mailing in photographs of old houses in rural Michigan to meet federal historic preservation rules. ''We keep playing catch-up.''

And of course, even in a skeptical article about a "stimulus" project, no one ever mentioned what productive activities the $5 billion was being used for by private individuals before the government yanked it away for this little catastrophe.

By the way, the overblown rhetoric award has to go to this:

''This is the beginning of the next industrial revolution with the explosion of clean energy investments,'' said assistant U.S. Energy Secretary Cathy Zoi. ''These are good jobs that are here to stay.''

Given that the first one was about steel mills and railroads and oil and electricity, if this new industrial revolution is all about caulking, I think I am getting nostalgic for the first one.

66,667% Contingency Fee

Via Overlawyered:

The settlement discussed in this space July 17 "” in which lawyers nabbed more than $25 million in fees and expenses, while fewer than 100 consumers redeemed Ford coupons worth $37,500 "” was covered by the Associated Press last week, which stirred outrage in many quarters [Krauss/PoL, Greenfield, Cal Biz Lit]. As Cal Civil Justice notes, the settlement was purportedly on behalf of owners who suffered no rollover or other mishap. Instead, it sought damages for losses in the vehicle's resale value due to adverse publicity, a nicely circular theory, since the adverse publicity was in good measure propelled by various allies of the plaintiff's bar.

When Did the Media Stop Distringuishing Between Facts and Guesses?

The Associated Press has an article on how the demographics of New Orleans changed post-Katrina:

Those who have moved back to New Orleans in the three years since
Hurricane Katrina devastated the city are likely to have higher incomes
and more education than people who haven't come back, demographic data

New Orleans remains predominantly black, as it was before Hurricane
Katrina struck in 2005, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. But people who
have some college education, are above the poverty line, own homes
and have no children are more likely to have returned to the city than
others, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution
in Washington.

The city was 59 percent black in 2006, the most recent census
figures available, compared with 68 percent in 2005. Census data shows
20.6 percent of New Orleans residents were below the poverty level last
year, compared with 24.5 percent in 2005.

OK, the fact that the demographics of New Orleans have changed coincident with the Katrina evacuation  is a fact.  It is based on probably the best demographic data available, though it is not clear that Mr. Frey has the evidence at hand to separate the effects of economic growth in New Orleans from migration patterns in explaining the drop in people below the poverty line, but I will cut him some slack compare to this next statement:

"The people who have come back are the people with the best resources
to come back," said Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in
Washington who has studied the demographics of New Orleans. "The people
who have not come back are lower-income, minorities, largely renters.
They were the least equipped to come back and have not been able to."

This is a guess.  The data Mr. Frey is working with sheds no light on the reason certain groups did not return.  His statement that they did not come back because they did have the resources to do so is an unproven hypothesis.  I could easily offer a counter-hypothesis, that the issue was that these folks did not have the resources or the knowledge to leave New Orleans to find opportunities to escape their poverty, and having been granted the unique opportunity by the Katrina evacuation to get out, they have found opportunity elsewhere and see no reason to return to the place where they were formerly impoverished.  I actually think my hypothesis is more likely than Mr. Frey's, but in the end both of us are guessing.

A Thought On Defending the Right of Commerce

From the Associated Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to
Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle
and sending a warning to store owners to clean off their shelves.

An adult-store owner had asked the justices to throw out the law as
an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of the bedroom. But the
Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving intact a lower court
ruling that upheld the law.

Sherri Williams, owner of Pleasures stores in Huntsville and
Decatur, said she was disappointed, but plans to sue again on First
Amendment free speech grounds.

"My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up," she said.

The appeals court made this distinction:

Williams had asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by the
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Alabama's law was not
affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision knocking down Texas' sodomy

Texas sodomy law involved private conduct, while the Alabama law
regulated commercial activity, the appeals court judges said. Public
morality was an insufficient government interest in the Texas case but
was sufficient in the Alabama case, they said.

Now, I don't in any way shape or form see any differences between "private conduct" and "commerce."  How in the hell can sexual decisions between consenting adults be any different, legally, than commercial transactions between consenting adults.  It is a distinction that socialists have been succesful in introducing in the US, and to which many now cling.

The interesting part is to consider the folks who are fighting the sex toy ban.  My wild guess, which may be off the mark, is that this is not a bunch of Christian conservative Republicans.  My guess is that these folks are probably a bit left of center, and further, that many of them accept and support the notion that the government has every right to regulate dirty old commerce, but no right to regulate one's "private life."  Well, maybe now it will be clearer, at least to some, how dangerous this distinction is.   As a parting note, it has been two years now since we saw the irony of left-leaning members of the Supreme Court overrule state laws allowing medical marijuana use based on the commerce clause.

AP Defends Photo as "Fake but Accurate"

Release from the Associated Press:

Photo of Kidnapped Soldier Fake, But Accurate

London:  We are working hard to authenticate the photograph of the American Soldier we reported kidnapped by Islamic terrorists freedom fighters.  A number of extremist right-wing reactionary bloggers have accused the AP of being duped by a photo of an action figure propped against a cement block.  Bloggers point to differences in clothing vs. standard US combat gear as well as a similarity in appearance to the "Cody" action figure.

The AP stands by its story.  We have engaged a world famous collector of 1970's Barbie dolls that we met in an eBay chat room who has assured us that no action figure clothing ever made could possibly match what is shown in the photo.  We are meeting with our expert next month at the Houston rodeo to review his findings.

Even if the photo is eventually determined to be fake, we still believe it is an accurate representation of our need to find a negative story in Iraq to counterbalance the positive press President Bush has gotten after the recent elections. 

And, in a related story... well, not really related, except it is also about Iraq... OK, actually its related only because I am too lazy to start a new post:

UN officials reacted strongly to the attacks on its recent blogads taking credit for the recent Iraqi election.  Critics called the ads rank hypocrisy, given the fact that the UN funneled over $20 billion of food money to Saddam, opposed the overthrow of Saddam, and cut-and-run from helping to rebuild Iraq at the first sign of violence.  The UN said that the ads were perfectly consistent with its policy, since it "was against elections before it was for them."

Interviews of Iraqi citizens on the street showed strong support for the UN's lack of support.  Said one Iraqi who asked to remain anonymous, "given the UN peacekeepers terrible performance in Kosovo and their serial rape and white slavery in the Congo and their sanctioning of genocide in the Sudan, we haven't really missed them."