Newspapers: still the most important medium for understanding the world
Adam Curtis: “We don't read newspapers because the journalism is so boring” [more inside]
Adam Curtis: “We don't read newspapers because the journalism is so boring” [more inside]
In an interview with German television station ARD TV, Edward Snowden has alleged that the NSA is actively engaged in industrial espionage on behalf of US economic interests, targeting German engineering firm, Siemens and other international industrial concerns in its data collection activities, with no legitimate intelligence aims in mind. While the international response to the new allegations is still developing, back home in the US, Snowden has already been accused of disloyalty by US officials on both sides of the aisle, and at least one NSA analyst is on record stating he would personally "love to put a bullet in his head." (Previously)
Happy Political Clusterf*ck Day (U.S.)! In one corner: the first federal government shutdown since 1996, born of the House GOP/Tea Party faction's crusade to delay, defund, and destroy Obamacare (and the Democratic Senate and President's resolve to not do that). "Continuing resolutions" have ping-ponged between the two houses, fighting over language to cancel healthcare reform (plus a few other items, such as the implementation of Mitt Romney's entire economic agenda). National parks are closed, contractors are hamstrung, and 800,000 federal workers furloughed until Speaker Boehner drops the "Hastert Rule" and passes a bill the other branches can agree to. In the other corner, heedless of the chaos (though not without glitches of its own): the official rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its state insurance exchanges. The portal at Healthcare.gov is your one-stop shop for browsing, comparing, and purchasing standardized, regulated insurance coverage with premium rebates, guaranteed coverage, and expanded Medicaid for the poor (in some states). A crazy day, overall -- but peanuts compared to what might happen if the debt ceiling is breached in 16 days. [more inside]
France has made Japan angry again, this time with insensitive political cartoons about Fukushima. With radiation levels still spiking, and the government only reticently admitting to constant leaks, some are questioning the legitimacy of PM Abe's insistence that Tokyo is safe. With decisions not to prosecute anyone involved in the disaster, it seems that amakudari is, in Japan as in most other countries, still alive and well.
Brutal police crackdown on protesters against a bus fare rise in São Paulo and Rio, as well as other cities. [more inside]
What started as a report of a convenience store robbery near the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last night has sprawled into a chaotic manhunt for the perpetrators of the recent terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. The deadly pursuit, involving a policeman's murder, a carjacking, a violent chase with thrown explosives, and the death of one suspect, has resulted in Governor Deval Patrick ordering an unprecedented lockdown of the entire Boston metropolitan area as an army of law enforcement searches house by house for the remaining gunman. The Associated Press has identified the duo as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his 19-year-old brother Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, who remains at large. Both are immigrants from wartorn Chechnya in southwestern Russia. The Guardian liveblog is good for quick updates, and Reddit's updating crowdsourced timeline of events that has often outpaced mainstream media coverage of the situation. You can also get real-time reports straight from the (Java-based) local police scanner.
"At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, two explosions have left multiple people injured." via ParadisePost. CBS Boston has a live video feed up of the finish line.
Paul Ryan. Seven-term congressman for Wisconsin's 1st District. Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. Architect of the controversial Ryan Budget -- a "Path to Prosperity" [PDF - video - CBO] that would slash trillions from the federal budget, sharply curtail taxes on the wealthy, and transform Medicare into a private voucher system. Proponent (vid) -- and renouncer -- of Ayn Rand 's Objectivism. Social Security beneficiary. Hunter. Weinermobile driver. And as of this morning, the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States of America. [more inside]
In less than an hour, the Supreme Court will hand down its final judgment in what has become one of the most crucial legal battles of our time: the constitutionality of President Obama's landmark health care reform law. The product of a strict party line vote following a
year century of debate, disinformation, and tense legislative wrangling, the Affordable Care Act would (among other popular reforms) require all Americans to buy insurance coverage by 2014, broadening the risk pool for the benefit of those with pre-existing conditions.
The fate of this "individual mandate," bitterly opposed by Republicans despite its similarity to past plans touted by conservatives (including presidential contender Mitt Romney) is the central question facing the justices today. If the conservative majority takes the dramatic step of striking down the mandate, the law will be toothless, and in danger of wholesale reversal, rendering millions uninsured, dealing a crippling blow to the president's re-election hopes, and possibly endangering the federal regulatory state.
But despite the pessimism of bettors, some believe the Court will demur, wary of damaging its already-fragile reputation with another partisan 5-4 decision. But those who know don't talk, and those who talk don't know. Watch the SCOTUSblog liveblog for updates, Q&A, and analysis as the truth finally comes out shortly after 10 a.m. EST.
Michele may have crazy eyes, she may say crazy things, but did you ever think she'd apply for dual citizenship with a European country with mandated health insurance? Former Presidential nominee and perpetual font of amusement, Michele Bachmann is now officially a Swiss citizen.
After interminable months of campaigning, debates, and roller-coaster polling, the first official vote of the 2012 presidential race is in -- and boy, is it a doozy. Ames straw poll winner Michele Bachmann placed second-to-last, while former juggernaut Rick Perry performed so badly he's canceled upcoming events and is said to be on the verge of dropping out. Meanwhile, perennial laughingstock Rick Santorum, consolidating the support hemorrhaging from Perry, Bachmann, and an ad-blitzed Newt Gingrich, rocketed past the youth- and independent-backed Ron Paul and, with 99% of the vote counted, is separated from Mitt Romney by four votes out of ~120,000 -- by far the closest result in caucus history. As the shaken field contemplates the path ahead through Romney firewall New Hampshire, conservative South Carolina, Florida, Super Tuesday, and beyond, President Obama staged a quiet redux of his own dramatic caucus win four years ago, a dry run for the looming general election. And as for powerhouse Buddy Roemer? Don't worry -- his team is ready to do battle with evil.
Obama Announces Full Troop Withdrawal from Iraq by Year's End. Confirming reports that emerged last week that the US does not plan to maintain a residual troop presence in Iraq, the US will pull out of Iraq completely by the end of 2011, bringing to a close a bloody chapter in international history that first began in March 20, 2003. With other recent reports that the administration is considering a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of US special forces in May of this year, an end to America's longest running military conflict also seems likely to come soon.
Following a months-long investigation, the Department of Justice has announced the existence of a well-funded plot "conceived, sponsored and directed" by "high-ranking members of the Iranian government" to assassinate Saudi Arabian ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir on U.S. soil in conjunction with informants in Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. The "Hollywood" plot, revealed in an afternoon press conference and described in a detailed 21-page complaint [PDF], is alleged to have involved an attack on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. One suspect, naturalized American citizen Arbab Arbabsiar, has been arrested, while co-conspirator and Quds Force member Gholam Shakuri remains at large. Iranian officials were quick to label the charges a "fabrication" intended to distract from America's economic troubles.
A glimpse inside the Republican Party's little known Red Map Project: "Last fall, we worked together and achieved unprecedented success with the RedMap Project—an effort to capture legislative majorities across the country in preparation for the decennial redistricting process that will redraw districts for 2012 and beyond. The result was the pick up of an unprecedented 20 legislative chambers and over 700 seats." [more inside]
After weeks of fake primaries, fraudulent mailers, special interest moneybombs, and last-minute attempts at voter suppression, Wisconsinites went to the polls yesterday in an unprecedented round of six recall elections targeted mainly at Republican state senators for their support of Governor Scott Walker's controversial union-busting agenda. Five of the six races were called by Tuesday evening, with Democrats taking two of the three they'd need to regain control of the state senate. The lone holdout? A dead heat between incumbent Alberta Darling and challenger Sandy Pasch in District 8 -- the very same district that saw suspicious vote-counting by conservative Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus unexpectedly tip the balance towards Walker ally David Prosser late in the crucial state supreme court race this past April. The protracted count and late-night shift toward Darling coupled with Nickolaus's questionable history soon prompted Democratic officials to make accusations of fraud (later retracted). Control of the senate now lies in the defense of two Democratic seats up for recall next week and the possible wooing of GOP Senator Dale Schultz, the only Republican to vote against Walker's bill. Walker himself will be eligible for recall next spring. [more inside]
The other political hostage crisis in Washington: "The government is likely to lose more than $1 billion in airline ticket taxes because lawmakers have left town for a month without resolving a partisan standoff over a bill to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration." The standoff has resulted in a partial shutdown of FAA operations, leaving 4,000 airport safety workers out of work and forcing airport safety inspectors to work without pay. The dispute hinges on Republican legislative proposals designed to make it more difficult for FAA workers to organize into labor unions.
Eric Holder has announced a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody. The breaking story is also being reported by Talking Points Memo. This latest development comes as a result of a preliminary DOJ investigation into possible criminal acts stemming from the Bush torture policies that President Obama requested in August 2009, which was broadly criticized at the outset as not going far enough.
"Ocean Life on the Brink of Mass Extinctions," warns a new comprehensive study from "a 2011 workshop of ocean experts staged by [International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)] and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at Oxford University." The most likely culprits in the unfolding, large-scale disaster? Pollution and climate change, say the experts. What else is new, you say? Well, the schedule's been changed up: "Marine life facing mass extinction 'within one human generation,'... says global panel of scientists." [more inside]
Montel Williams has announced a partnership to bring a high-end, deluxe medical marijuana dispensary to Sacramento, California. This is not the first time Williams has brought the issue of medical marijuana into the media spotlight, having put in previous public appearances to discuss his own firsthand experiences using medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis. This latest venture puts Williams at the head of a growing list of celebrity marijuana legalization adocates, including Drew Carey, Justin Timberlake and others (this last link is possibly NSFW). But does all the Sturm und Drang around the issue of marijuana legalization really signal a changing political reality? Depending upon your perspective, the polls, at least, are starting to look pretty good.
"When a Nobel Prize Isn't Enough." With a sharply-worded rebuke of the congressional GOP, Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond has announced he is withdrawing as a candidate for the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors due to GOP obstructionism. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a leading critic of Diamond's appointment, welcomes the announcement and raises a predictable call for a candidate "capable of garnering bipartisan support in the Senate."
A New Zealand truck driver who inflated "like a balloon" when he fell buttocks-first onto a compressed air nozzle is being described as lucky to be alive.
"I'm not the kind of person to do that kind of thing in public," says Jonathan Williams, one of two men on a first date asked to leave the John Snow pub for "obscene" behavior on Wednesday. [more inside]
Rick Scott is taking aim at public hospitals in Florida. Former private hospital executive and current Florida governor Rick Scott recently established a commission to conduct a study into the possibility of privatizing all public hospitals in the State of Florida. Scott, a multi-millionaire who made his fortune as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, a large private hospital chain with a significant market presence in Florida, was previously implicated in the US's largest medicare fraud settlement involving Columbia/HCA under his leadership. Although the terms of the settlement did not charge Scott specifically with any wrongdoing, both whistleblowers and federal officials party to the investigation have reported that Scott was closely involved in determining the illegal business practices that led to the fraud allegations. [more inside]
In February, AOL acquired the Huffington Post for $315 million. (Previously) The formation of The Huffington Post Media Group was announced, to integrate content for a new combined, claimed audience of "117 Million Americans and 270 Million Globally." Then, AOL fired 200 US employees (leaving many sites without editorial staff) and began restructuring. Today, they announced that 30 brands, including popular site Slashfood, will be closed or folded into existing Huffington Post sections. [more inside]
Minecraft mastermind Markus "Notch" Persson has officially announced his company's next project: a hybrid online board game/trading card system called Scrolls. Spearheaded by Mojang co-founder Jakob Porser (interview) and with backstory penned by Penny Arcade wordsmith Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, the game will consist of turn-based battles between collectible "scrolls," illustrated character cards strategically deployed on an abstract gaming grid. In an interesting inversion of the Minecraft model, the game itself will be free, while updates in the form of additional scroll packs will cost a nominal fee -- a business model gaming analyst Sean Maelstrom decries as "snake oil." Mojang, for their part, is unafraid and even eager to target an untested slice of the gaming market, and is angling to get their playable prototype of Scrolls ready for a possible Alpha release this summer.
Obama Justice Department Finds DOMA Unconstitutional, Will Not Defend in Court The Justice Department just today sent a letter to John Boehner and other house leaders informing them of the decision. Here is the DOJ's official statement on the decision.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says the National Guard is prepared to respond to unrest among state workers: "Gov. Scott Walker says the Wisconsin National Guard is prepared to respond if there is any unrest among state employees in the wake of his announcement that he wants to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights." NY Times offers more reporting on Walker's proposals here. Notably, Walker is reportedly refusing even to negotiate with the public employee unions. Though Walker's carefully worded announcement avoided any specific commitments about how guard troops might be used much beyond noting the Wisconsin Governor's concern that "some union leaders will try to incite their members," a look back at the history of the labor movement in the US reveals that this wouldn't be the first time in US history the National Guard has been called upon to respond to labor unrest, and that the results haven't always been pretty. [more inside]
AOL has agreed to acquire the Huffington Post for $315 million. The combined entity will be known as the Huffington Post Media Group and will have Arianna Huffington as president and editor-in-chief. We recently heard from AOL when they posted a rather disappointing quarterly result for the end of 2010, and again when their latest master business plan (read: SEO, SEO, and more SEO) was leaked by Business Insider.
Australia is copping another pounding from natural disasters. After the floods across Brisbane (previously) in South-east Queensland, North Queensland is in the firing line for a Category 5 cyclone called Yasi. The official warning: THIS IMPACT IS LIKELY TO BE MORE LIFE THREATENING THAN ANY EXPERIENCED DURING RECENT GENERATIONS. [more inside]
The FCC and Department of Justice have approved Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal. The acquisition marks the first time a major television network will be owned by a cable provider. Opponents like Al Franken decry the deal as giving “unprecedented control over the flow of information in America” to a single media conglomerate. FCC news release about conditions imposed on the merger. (Scribd link)
A Federal Judge in Virginia has ruled the mandate in the recently passed Affordable Health Care Act unconstitutional. This unlikely result means that the Supreme Court will be in the position to decide whether or not all or part of the health care reform remains intact. Some argue this development may reflect the success of broad-reaching Republican efforts in recent years to tilt the political alignment of the Federal judiciary. Others, naturally, disagree.
An anonymous hacking outfit called "Gnosis" has infiltrated Gawker Media, hijacking the front page and leaking the company's internal chat logs, source code, and content databases along with the usernames, email addresses, and passwords of over 1.3 million users (including Gawker staff). The attack, which was motivated by what the group describes as the "outright arrogance" with which the company's bloggers taunted anonymous imageboard 4chan (semi-previously), affects every site in the Gawker network, including Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, Jezebel, Deadspin, Jalopnik, and io9. While most of the leaked passwords are encrypted, more than 200,000 of the simpler ones in the torrent file have been cracked, and the links between account names and email addresses are in plaintext for all to see. Since the integrity of Gawker's encryption methods remains in doubt, it is recommended that anyone who has ever registered an account on any Gawker property change their passwords immediately, especially if the same log-in information is used for other services.
C-SPAN airs Prop 8 appellate trial live. Prop 8 was the ballot measure that removed the right to marry from same-sex couples. Covered previously, previously, ZOMG PREVIOUSLY. Expect fun arguments about standing!
"Retiring Judge Accuses Colleague Of Corruptly Siding With Major Financial Firms Over 20 Years." As also reported by Washington Post and elsewhere, retiring Judge George Painter recently leveled the explosive claim that a colleague, Judge Bruce Levine, had privately admitted to entering into a secret agreement with Wendy Gramm, former Republican chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to rule against investors in every case brought before his court. "On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor," Painter wrote. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow," Painter wrote. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal meanwhile runs with a slightly different take on the story (behind pay-wall).
"Rain is probably the most effective way to ... cause the ice to melt. So this was the first time you could see the surface actually lowering around you." A rare tropical glacier in Indonesia has dropped by a foot in the space of two weeks, as observed by a team sent to collect ice cores to study the effects of global warming. (Glaciers, previously.) [more inside]
Another oil rig has reportedly just exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Though coverage is scanty now as this is a breaking story, there is updated coverage here. This news comes just as a new study by officials from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources working with local oyster men finds that roughly 90% of oysters in the areas they sampled were dead.
Yesterday morning, social news juggernaut Digg.com finally unveiled its much-ballyhooed redesign: Digg 4.0. More than a simple cosmetic makeover, the new edition of the popular link-sharing platform fundamentally alters the underlying mechanics of the site. [more inside]
A 60-mile traffic jam in northern China has entered its tenth day, and could last for weeks longer.
25 Hong Kong tourists were held hostage in Manila in a 12-hour bus siege that ended with ten dead and six injured. [more inside]
Breitbart strikes again. Conservative media activist and propagandist Andrew Breitbart made news again this week, bringing to light apparent video evidence of racism among the NAACP's ranks, in the form of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, who was allegedly caught on tape in a speech to the NAACP, admitting that race had influenced her decisions not to provide assistance to white farm workers. But despite the fact that Sherrod was summarily dismissed from her USDA post as a result of Breitbart's accusations, the complete, unedited footage of the speech reportedly confirms Sherrod's claims that "her comments were taken out of context... that the anecdote was part of a larger story, one in which she explains how she overcame her initial prejudice" and that in fact, the reported incidents took place before Sherrod worked for the USDA, when she worked for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund. The white farmers described in the story have since confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, in fact, Sherrod saved them from bankruptcy. [Via] [more inside]
BP admits lobbying to get convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi released in order to protect a $900,000,000 deal to drill off the coast of Libya. In the future, we'll probably be hearing a lot more about the controversy over BP's admitted role (acknowledged long ago by officials in the UK) in negotiating for al-Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds that have since been called into question (as previously discussed here). At the time of al-Megrahi's release by a Scottish Judge, US officials were sharply critical of the decision to release al-Megrahi. Investigations into the arrangement are currently underway in the US congress.
There's been plenty of politically partisan debate about who or what ultimately caused the real estate crash that triggered the recent US financial crisis. One popular view blames "the Democrats and their efforts to expand homeownership to people who, in some cases, may not have been quite ready for it." But contrary to this view, new data strongly suggests that throughout the real estate collapse, the rich have actually been defaulting on mortgages for strategic reasons at much higher rates than the huddled masses. [more inside]
The New York Times reports that anime-style "Circle" (or "Big Eye") lenses are currently gaining in popularity, thanks to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance video. [more inside]
BP agrees to set aside $20 billion for spill claims. In a much anticipated deal brokered with the heads of the disgraced oil industry giant following on the heels of last night's speech from the Oval Office, President Obama has received a commitment from BP to establish a $20 billion dollar escrow account to pay for economic damages related to the Deepwater Horizon's now estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrel a day oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico (also previously here, here, and here on the blue). Does this development render moot the politically perilous issue of retroactively lifting the $75 million dollar cap on oil company liabilities, which the DOJ recently declared legal? Some are asking for more details. NY Times asks: How much will BP really pay? Darling of the far-right fringe Michelle Balkin cautions BP: "Don't be chumps! This is redistribution of wealth." And fellow right-of-centrist Sarah Palin wants to call in the Dutch.
Supreme Court Blocks Arizona Campaign Finance System. After it's recent highly controversial ruling in Citizens United Vs. Federal Election Commission, which struck down longstanding Federal limits on corporate political spending (discussed previously here and here on the blue), the court now seems poised to strike the last nail in the coffin of the possibility of public campaign finance reform by considering arguments over the constitutionality of public financing of political campaigns. [more inside]
If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.
"George W. Bush Knew Guantanamo Prisoners Were Innocent." In a signed declaration filed as part of a pending lawsuit on behalf of former Guantanamo Bay detainees and obtained by The Times, Lawrence Wilkerson, a high ranking aide to former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, makes the stunning claim that: "George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror." (via)
Bad News for Net Neutrality: "A federal appeals court has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks." The ruling is being viewed as a major setback for the FCC's National Broadband Plan.
Texas votes to adopt new education standards and curriculum designed to give history instruction a conservative slant. Among other vital corrections to the historical record, the school board: "managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among the conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)
Frustrated with congress' inability or unwillingness to pass comprehensive greenhouse gas regulation legislation and bolstered by a Supreme Court decision upholding the EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing authority of the Clean Air Act, President Obama early in his term reversed the Bush administration's position and extended power to the EPA to do the job, partly to provide congressional Democrats with extra leverage to push for a meaningful deal. Fellow Democrat Jay Rockefeller (who recently drew progressive ire by announcing he wouldn't support a push to include the public option during the HCR budget reconciliation process) has helpfully just introduced a bill that would take the power to regulate greenhouse gases away from the EPA yet again.
New Orleans detective pleads guilty to major coverup of police shootings in aftermath of Katrina. Among other things, Lohman has admitted involvement in planting a handgun at the scene, drafting fake police reports, and lying to federal agents as part of a conspiracy to cover up the truth about a shooting incident in which six unarmed civilians were shot by New Orleans' police. With news of Lohman's guilty plea announcement coming amid a renewed DOJ push to investigate allegations of police abuse in New Orleans, some are wondering who'll be next in front of a jury. (Via TPM.)