Monday, August 5, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jonathan Silverman, 47. I'm still smiling at the "How I Met" Bernie's II thing from several months ago. Bernie's II may have had the one of the best premises for a movie, well, ever.

Another week, another fine batch of good stuff:

1. Of course you want to read more on the Fed choice from Sarah Binder.

2. Greg Sargent on the Democrats' approach to this fall's budget battles.

3. Bob Cohen on comments sections. Interesting.

4. Fred Kaplan on NSA.

5. And a good summary from Adam Serwer on what's happened in the NSA story.


  1. I must admit, some of the NSA discussions confuse me. We've known the broad outlines of this since 2006. Who exactly is surprised that the NSA monitors the Internet? How is it that time and again, decade after decade, people are shocked to discover that no one is having a public discussion over secret operations? None of the Snowden documents show that the Obama administration (unlike the Bush administration) was operating outside the law. They show a vast technical capability--which is not going away even if these programs are shut down--and Snowden and Greenwald make assertions that someone must be abusing that capability. (I don't know, the government--and many of my neighbors--have the technical capability to kick my door in and strangle me in my bed, but I really don't lose any sleep worrying about it. Maybe it's just me.) Serwer cites a McClatchy report to show that the NSA violated the rules, but what does the report say?

    "The documents didn’t disclose specific details of the violations. But they said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court imposed temporary restrictions on the programs after it learned of the violations until it was satisfied the NSA had revamped its procedures to conform to court requirements."

    Isn't that the court that everyone calls a rubberstamp? Doesn't this suggest that the system might be working after all? If they want to declassify the court's opinions and have a public advocate argue against the Intelligence Community at court hearings, that's fine, probably a good thing. But that doesn't change the essence of the system. There will still be secret operations, and they won't be discussed in public (or at least, many of them won't). In any event, all the breathlessness and outrage seems a little over the top.

    1. Again, I have to bring up Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer was nailed to the wall for consorting with prostitutes. This habit was discovered when individuals in the federal government analyzed his money transfers (that were below the mandatory reporting requirements for FISA).

      This is political surveillance. It can be used against your enemies. Spitzer was never prosecuted - the information was not obtained with a warrant.

      Is this what you want your government to do?

    2. My understanding was that Spitzer was caught because a bank filed a Suspicious Activity Report to the Treasury Department regarding his fund transfers to a shell corporation, which turned out to be a cover for a prostitution ring. Even that wasn't noticed until another bank file a separate SAR on the shell corporation. That has nothing to do with the Intelligence Community or data mining.

    3. Okay, I'll stop using Spitzer as an example. However, one can dig back to the (possibly largely fictional) autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, who described an FBI where agents were encouraged to check the files to see what their neighbors were up to.

      I think about the abuses of intelligence that went on during the Bush Administration to justify a war, and I don't see any protections with respect to data mining. There's a whole lot of uses for information on specific people besides criminal prosecution. You may not feel at risk. I don't either. But I can imagine a lot of people in politics or journalism could be.

    4. One thing that I've noticed, and I suppose it's not unique to this issue, is that the most engaged people on both sides of the debate have a tendency to dismiss the other side's concerns out of hand. From the left you get the impression that nothing deserves to be secret, the state never really was concerned about national security, and the whole intelligence apparatus is some sort of totalitarian scheme directed against domestic political opponents. From the right it's as if there are no civil rights, they're just something that liberals thought up to undermine the state, and if there are they deserve to be violated before they give rise to anarchy. That might be a bit exaggerated, but you know what I mean.

      There was an op-ed in the Times the other day saying that leakers tend to be people who, in general, value fairness above loyalty. Hence, liberals, who also tend to value fairness, support them, and conservatives, who value loyalty, denounce them as traitors. (I ought to throw in a "ceteris paribus" there. I'm sure that in certain circumstances--such as someone leaking against Obama about Benghazi--the situation reverses.)

    5. You're right, Scott, and I am in fact a yellow-dog Democrat. I also feel that the Fourth Amendment is getting pretty tattered. I would like to see a requirement for a warrant before police groups, including the FBI, the DEA, etc, are able to access data such as email subjects and contents or web browser histories, period.

  2. Also, is it just me, or does Ed Kilgore need a vacation?

  3. Bob Cohn writes, "It takes a lot of moderating time to foster a positive commenting section."

    In my experience, that isn't necessarily true. It tends to be true about sites where there are a large number of commenters, but small blogs like this one probably could go unmoderated without being overrun by spammers and trolls. Even some more prominent blogs have managed to have a decent commentariat without major moderation. One example that comes to mind is, before it moved to the New York Times. For some reason--perhaps it was the blog's emphasis on analysis over polemics--the discussions in the commenting section tended to be quite fruitful. There was some partisan bickering, but most of it remained fairly productive and civil. When Nate Silver moved to the NYT, this situation ended; there, every comment has to be approved before it can appear, and since it was the site of a major newspaper, that made back-and-forth almost impossible. A great deal of the comments there consist of either rah-rah partisan cheerleading or kooks with their pet theories.

    1. I think part of what happens in a small commenting community is that, since the same set of people are reading comments by a somewhat smaller same set of people, you develop the equivalent of a real name. That is, you develop the kind of reputation that creates an investment in protecting your good name. When I say something stupid here, I'm ashamed in a way I can't imagine I would be if I were writing on a blog where I wasn't aware of anyone in particular as potentially reading my comments.

      There's also the fact that small commenting communities bring out people who aren't necessarily very bold about commenting elsewhere on the Internet, because it's kind of an amazing thing to be pretty sure that people you respect and whose thoughts you're interested in are going to read what you've said.

    2. Just to mention...I've always said that I read every comment, but as of a couple of weeks ago that's no longer strictly true. I get email notifications of comments, and either read them there or, if there's plenty, go to the blog proper to read them. Anyway, recently I've been getting bombed with anonymous comments. The software catches (most of) them, so I don't really have to do anything, but it has meant that I don't check to see in my email which anonymous comments are real and which are spam.

      Sometimes I can tell (there are patterns), and in active threads I'm reading through on the blog and read everything, but at this point I'm not going to check and make sure I read absolutely every real anonymous comment.

      Back to the topic: as always, I very much appreciate the quality of discussion that many of the regular commenters have established around here. I just wish I had the time to participate more!


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