The surveillance state lives

Government officials claim, in the most hyperbolic terms, that the telephone metadata collection program is absolutely necessary to the country’s safety. Of course, that a a false claim since no evidence has ever been presented publicly that the program stopped any attacks on the country.

The latest lies were told by a government prosecutor, Julia Berman, yesterday in a lawsuit brought before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon. The Intercept reported that this is what the DOJ prosecutor claimed:

A Justice Department prosecutor said Thursday that ordering the immediate end of bulk surveillance of millions of Americans’ phone records would be as hasty as suddenly letting criminals out of prison.

“Public safety should be taken into consideration,” argued DOJ attorney Julia Berman, noting that in a 2011 Supreme Court ruling on prison overcrowding, the state of California was given two years to find a solution and relocate prisoners.

By comparison, she suggested, the six months Congress granted to the National Security Agency to stop indiscriminately collecting data on American phone calls was minimal.

Ending the bulk collection program even a few weeks before the current November 29 deadline would be an imminent risk to national security because it would create a dangerous “intelligence gap” during a period rife with fears of homegrown terrorism, she said.

Judge Leon was highly dubious of her claims.

When Berman made her analogy to releasing prisoners en masse, Leon responded: “That’s really a very different kind of situation, don’t you think?”.

And Berman was unable to cite any evidence that the bulk collection prevented any sort of terrorist attack, or that ending it now would be a serious threat.

“That’s a problem I had before—wonderful high lofty expressions, general vague terms…but [the government] did not share a single example,” Leon said.

Armed shopper shoots at shoplifters

In Auburn Hills, about 10 miles from my home, a shopper at a Home Depot yesterday opened fire on a vehicle in the parking lot that she believed was being driven by shoplifters. This was the middle of the afternoon. So far, police haven’t said whether she would be prosecuted or congratulated.

What could have happened had another armed citizen or citizens opened fire on the woman. For god’s sake, chaos and injuries could ensue, including the deaths of individuals over a stolen object from the store.

Hillary Clinton opposes Trans-Pacific trade pact

Hillary Clinton is opposed to the Trans-Pacific trade pact, notwithstanding that it is one of Obama’s most prized goals before the end of his presidency.

From the New York Times:

Hillary Rodham Clinton dealt a significant blow to President Obama in his efforts to secure approval from Congress on his signature trade agreement, saying on Wednesday she could not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact that she bolstered as secretary of state and that liberals in the Democratic Party have vehemently opposed.

After months of delicately avoiding expressing an opinion on the controversial trade deal, Mrs. Clinton said the agreement in its current form did not meet her high bar for protecting American workers, the environment and advancing national security.

Her opposition to the trade pact comes just before next Tuesday’s first Democratic presidential debate and represents the latest and most potentially damaging break with Mr. Obama.

* * *

She specifically criticized the agreement for lacking sufficient protections against currency manipulation, which she said “kills American jobs,” and provisions that benefit global pharmaceutical companies over patients.

While I am not a huge Clinton fan, I must say that this is terrific news and it may well cause the pact to be defeated. I assume that Bernie Sanders is also against the deal. Joe Biden, should he run, announced yesterday that he supports the deal.

Obama ending wars? (updated)

Glenn Greenwald, writing the The Intercept, calls out claims by the Obama administration that it has ended two wars. Here are some examples of the claims:

“We’ve ended two wars.” — Barack Obama, July 21, 2015, at a DSCC fundraiser held at a “private residence”

“Now that we have ended two wars responsibly, and brought home hundreds of American troops, we salute this new generation of veterans.” — National Security Adviser Susan Rice, May 20, 2015

“His presidency makes a potentially great story: the first African-American in the White House, who helped the country recover from recession and ended two wars.” — Dominic Tierney, The Atlantic, January 15, 2015, “America Will Miss Obama When He’s Gone”

What a bunch of hooey. Here is the nut of Greenwald’s case:

How do you know when you’re an out-of-control empire? When you keep bombing and deploying soldiers in places where you boast that you’ve ended wars. How do you know you have a hackish propagandist for a president? When you celebrate him for “ending two wars” in the very same places that he keeps bombing.

All of this, just by the way, is being done without any Congressional approval, at least with regard to Iraq and Syria. As my colleague Cora Currier noted when reporting on the Airwars report in August, these civilian deaths are “a reminder of the extent to which the United States’ air war in Syria and Iraq has rolled ahead with little public debate over its effectiveness. Congress has still not passed a specific legal authorization for the war.”

The entire article is worth a read.

Update: There is an interesting account in the New York Times regarding the US attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that shows the US is far from “ending” the war in that country.

Nine months after President Obama declared an end to the American war in Afghanistan, the airstrike has provided a tragic reminder that the United States is still very much involved in the conflict. And just as in past cases in which American aircraft killed Afghans, the military has again found itself struggling to explain why it ended up targeting civilians, not Taliban fighters, in an episode that is likely to help shape the debate about how large a force to keep there beyond this year. There are currently about 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and most are there to train and advise Afghan forces.

Statistic of the day

What is the human costs of gun violence in the United States? According to a study by Vox, here is one measure:

. . . if you include all gun deaths (including homicides, suicides, and accidents), guns killed more Americans between 2001 and 2013 than terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined:


Full details here.

Here is another startling statistic about gun violence:

In America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI.

Bob Lefsetz on Apple Music

Bob Lefsetz writes terrific essays on the current music/entertainment/tech areas, and this one is absolutely on point. He disparages the Apple Music service as unintuitive, complicated and in some sense an outright failure.

They’re not gonna tell us how many subscribers they’ve got.

And they’re not gonna extend the free period, the rightsholders won’t let them.

So what have we learned here…

Apple launched a beta product.

How could they get it so wrong? They have public betas of iOS 9 and El Capitan and they throw this half-baked software at the public?

They were afraid of being late.

But the truth is it’s still early.

And an opportunity was blown.

YouTube owns music streaming.

Spotify owns paid music streaming.

But most people are not paying.

Will they pay Google/YouTube, Spotify or Apple?


But I do know that there is a first mover advantage, but if you’re not first, you’d better get it right. That was the essence of the iPod.

But not Apple Music.

Tesla was not the first electric car, just the best. The only people you can get to say anything negative about Tesla are right wingers invested in fossil fuels and the “Wall Street Journal” editorial page which carps about federal subsidies. But the public LOVES Tesla. What broke Tesla through? The “Consumer Reports” ratings. Best ever. The “New York Times” tried to quibble with that, a snarky writer said the car did not have the range promised and…ELON MUSK WENT NUCLEAR ON HIM! Just like Steve Jobs used to. Needless to say, Tim Cook is not going nuclear on me, because I’m right and he’s wrong. And that’s a sorry state of affairs.

Tesla won because their cars just worked, and unlike their competitors’ automobiles they had RANGE! Over 200 miles, and that made a difference. And Tesla went after the early adopters with money, who love to spread the word. Instead of launching a cutting edge music service, Apple was so busy trying to involve the rearguard that they ended up with a platform that pleased nobody. Apple Music ain’t good for streaming and it ain’t good for files. Pick a lane.

If Tesla ran its operation like Apple Music every car would come with a gasoline engine, kind of like a Volt. But the Volt failed because… People don’t trust General Motors, I’d never buy one of their cars. AND the Volt had substandard electric range. So the Volt was adopted by wonks, it just wasn’t cool enough, it failed in the marketplace, they had to give the initial iteration away at the end of its life cycle, whereas Tesla’s Model S still has customers.

Personally I agree with this take (on both Apple Music and Tesla Motors), and I have cancelled my Apple Music account as the 3 month trial period ended. I never really was able to grok the approach of the service and I just decided to continue to buy the music I like.

By the way, if you like his writing style, you can subscribe to emails of his essays here.

Political quote of the day

That was back in the days before they would shoot you.

Ben Carson, after describing how as a child he could hop fences to get away from police officers [in Detroit] after playfully “throwing rocks at cars,” before quickly saying that he was kidding and that he had “a tremendous amount of respect for police because they put their lives on the line every day.” He made the remarks at an event in Durham, N.H. (via The New York Times)

Tesla launches new Model X SUV (updated)

Check out the video of the launch event from last evening. Elon Musk certainly has an enthusiastic audience. I particularly like the “Bio-Weapon Defense Mode” button on the air filter. Also, the demo of the falcon wing doors with vehicles parked right up next to them is amazing.


Update: The Tesla Model X has been designed to appeal to women at least as much as men. And it turns out that women buy 53% of all SUVs.

God is an Artist

The folks at The Intercept have created a documentary film operation called Field of Vision. One of the first films, called God is an Artist, is focused on Detroit, graffiti art, and law enforcement efforts by the City to prosecute artists, including the well-known Shepard Fairey‘s prosecution for vandalism. Essentially, the government of the City of Detroit is prosecuting artists who are showing that public art can be very good for a struggling city. But the City takes the position that all such public art is blight. Click the second link above to watch the short film.