Manufacturing

Sheldon Whitehouse: We Can’t Unilaterally Disarm, Even to Keep America Competitive

I have to say, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the dragnet was a bust.

Pat Leahy was fired up — and even blew off a Keith Alexander attempt to liken the Internet to a library with stories of the library card he got when he was 4. While generally favoring the dragnet, Chuck Grassley at least asked decent questions. But because of a conflict with a briefing on the Iran deal, Al Franken was the only other Senator to show up for the first panel. And the government witnesses — Keith Alexander, Robert Litt, and James Cole — focused on the phone dragnet disclosed over 6 months ago, rather than newer disclosures like back door searches and the Internet dragnet, which moved overseas. Litt even suggested — in response to a question from Leahy — that they might still be able to conduct the dragnet if they could bamboozle the FISA Court on relevance, again (see Spencer on that). As a result, no one discussed the systemic legal abuses of the Internet dragnet or NSA’s seeming attempt to evade oversight and data sharing limits by moving their dragnet overseas.

Things went downhill when Leahy left for the Iran briefing and Sheldon Whitehouse presided over the second panel, with the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s Edward Black, CATO’s Julian Sanchez, and Georgetown professor (and former DOJ official) Carrie Cordero. Sanchez hit some key points on the why Internet metadata is not actually like phone pen registers. Cordero acknowledged that metadata was very powerful but then asserted that the metadata of the phone-based relationships of every American was not.

And Black tried to make the case that the spying is killing America.

Or, more specifically, his industry’s little but significant corner of America, the Internet. While only some of this was in his opening statement, Black made the case that the Internet plays a critical role in America’s competitiveness.

While these are critical issues, it is important that the Committee also concern itself with the fact that the behavior of the NSA, combined with the global environment in which this summer’s revelations were released, may well pose an existential threat to the Internet as we know it today, and, consequently, to many vital U.S. interests, including the U.S. economy.

[snip]

The U.S. government has even taken notice. A recent comprehensive re- port from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) noted, “digital trade continues to grow both in the U.S. economy and globally” and that a “further increase in digital trade is probable, with the U.S. in the lead.” In fact, the re- port also shows, U.S. digital exports have exceeded imports and that surplus has continually widened since 2007.

[snip]

As a result, the economic security risks posed by NSA surveillance, and the international political reaction to it, should not be subjugated to traditional national security arguments, as our global competitiveness is essential to long-term American security. It is no accident that the official National Security Strategy of the United States includes increasing exports as a major component of our national defense strategy.

Then he laid out all the ways that NSA’s spying has damaged that vital part of the American economy: by damaging trust, especially among non-American users not granted to the protections Americans purportedly get, and by raising suspicion of encryption.

Black then talked about the importance of the Internet to soft power. He spoke about this generally, but also focused on the way that NSA spying was threatening America’s dominant position in Internet governance, which (for better and worse, IMO) has made the Internet the medium of exchange it is.

The U.S. government position of supporting the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance has been compromised. We have heard increased calls for the ITU or the United Nations in general to seize Internet governance functions from organizations that are perceived to be too closely associated with the U.S. government, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

And he pointed to proposals to alter the architecture of the Internet to minimize the preferential access the US currently has.

Let’s be honest, Black is a lobbyist, and he’s pitching his industry best as he can. I get that. Yet even still, he’s not admitting that these governance and architecture issues really don’t provide neutrality — though US stewardship may be the least-worst option, it provides the US a big advantage.

What Black hinted at (but couldn’t say without freaking out foreign users even more) is that our stewardship of the Internet is not just one of the few bright spots in our economy, but also a keystone to our power internationally. And it gives us huge spying advantages (not everyone trying to erode our control of the Internet’s international governance is being cynical — Edward Snowden has made it clear we have abused our position).

Which is why Whitehouse’s response was so disingenuous. He badgered Black, interrupting him consistently. He asked him to compare our spying with that of totalitarian governments, which Black responded was an unfair comparison. And Whitehouse didn’t let Black point out that American advantages actually do mean we spy more than others, because we can.

Basically, Whitehouse suggested that, in the era of Big Data,  if we didn’t do as much spying as we could — and to hell with what it did to our preferential position on the Internet — it would amount to unilaterally disarming in the face of Chinese and Russian challenges.

If we were to pass law that prevented us from operating in Big Data, would be unilaterally disarming.

Whitehouse followed this hubris up with several questions that Sanchez might have gladly answered but Black might have had less leeway to answer, such as whether a court had ever found these programs to be unconstitutional. (The answer is yes, John Bates found upstream collection to be unconstitutional, he found the Internet dragnet as conducted for 5 years to be illegal wiretapping, and in the Yahoo litigation in 2007, Yahoo never learned what the minimization procedures were, and therefore never had the opportunity to make the case.) Black suggested, correctly, I think, that Whitehouse’s position meant we were just in an arms race to be the Biggest Brother.

I get it. Whitehouse is one of those who believelike Keith Alexander (whose firing Whitehouse has bizarrely not demanded, given his stated concerns about the failure to protect our data during Alexander’s tenure) that the Chinese are plundering the US like a colony.

Not only does this stance seem to evince no awareness of how America used data theft to build itself as a country (and how America’s hardline IP stance will kill people, making America more enemies). But it ignores the role of the Internet in jobs and competition and trade in ideas and goods.

Sheldon Whitehouse, from a state suffering economically almost as much as Michigan, seems anxious to piss away what competitive advantages non-defense America has to conduct spying that hasn’t really produced results (and has made our networks less secure as a result — precisely the problem Whitehouse claims to be so concerned about). That’s an ugly kind of American hubris that doesn’t serve this country, even if you adopt the most jingoistic nationalism imaginable.

He should know better than this. But in today’s hearing, he seemed intent on silencing the Internet industry so he didn’t learn better.

Update: Fixed the Black quotation.

Update: Jack Goldsmith pushes back against the American double standards on spying and stealing here.

China’s Media Protectionism

The other day, NYT’s great ombud Margaret Sullivan wrote a post on the difficulties it and other media outlets are having with China.

• Last year, The Times published a story by David Barboza about the enormous wealth of China’s ruling family. The article won a Pulitzer Prize — and caused the Chinese government to shut down The Times’s website in China, an important part of its growth as a global business, at a cost of about $3 million in lost revenue to The Times so far.

[Click through for Sullivan's account of the dispute between NYT and Bloomberg over whether the latter killed a story critical of China's ruling elite.]

• Fortune magazine reported last week that Chinese authorities barged into Bloomberg News offices in Shanghai and Beijing to conduct inspections shortly after The Times wrote about the disputed and still unpublished article. Chinese officials also demanded an apology from Mr. Winkler, Fortune reported. Mr. Winkler has built Bloomberg News into a top-flight news organization, one that has clearly done some of the best reporting from China. Publicly, Bloomberg has continued to say that its article was held back for more reporting, not permanently killed. One of the reporters of that article, Michael Forsythe, was suspended from Bloomberg; he later left the company. It would not be surprising if Mr. Forsythe soon joined the reporting staff of The Times.

• American reporters in China are having problems getting their residency visas renewed and soon may be forced to leave the country. What once was “an annual nonevent” has become “a very big worry,” said Jill Abramson, the executive editor at The Times. “I’m concerned that we won’t be able to do the unfettered coverage we need to do for our readers.”

The Times has a dozen people reporting on China who have New York Times accreditations from the Chinese government, including a photographer and a videographer. All are in Beijing except Mr. Barboza, who is based in Shanghai. The Times also has several correspondents and an editing operation in Hong Kong.

• The websites of The Wall Street Journal and Reuters were both recently blocked, and Bloomberg’s has been blocked for many months. And after officials ordered some companies to stop paying for Bloomberg’s data terminals — central to the company’s distinctive business model — the growth in sales slowed in China, a major potential market.

These are two different types of activity (or maybe three). There’s the refusal to let reporters report freely in China, which has the effect of making it harder to document elite corruption. There’s the refusal to let media outlets distribute their works in China, which has both a censorship and a business effect (which adds up to millions in revenue, according to Sullivan). And then there’s China discouraging companies from paying for Bloomberg terminals, which is much closer to withholding a “hard” market than a “soft” one. (Chinese traders can still get the same data, just not in that convenient form.) This last category is very likely the most costly one for Bloomberg (indeed, it may explain why it is gutting its investigative journalism) though I have yet to see hard data on how costly it is.

These are not new problems.

Google already faced the choice of abiding by China’s censorship and spying requirements or losing access to the market (it’s worth noting that China found Google access more threatening to its power than real press coverage, at least up until now).

And a range of manufacturing and content companies have had to choose between entering the lucrative and growing Chinese market and abiding by certain rules. Of the media companies, only Google has likely been exposed to the kind of intellectual property risks implicit in — but not explicitly admitted — in doing business in China.

That is, for decades, American companies have faced the choice of doing business in China with real limits or forgoing one of the fastest growing markets.

And, as happened before with digital technology, the media outlets are now being exposed to the same difficult demands — largely that they either not report critically or lose access to the market — that manufacturing and other industries faced years before.

That doesn’t make it right.

But I do hope media companies realize that the Chinese conditions on entering its market are not new at all. Because for years, the media has largely been ignoring or downplaying the costs that manufacturing companies have paid for entering the Chinese market, which has had a huge impact on US competitiveness, both in terms of lost IP and in terms of diminished exports.

China’s mercantilism has been forcing this kind of choice for decades. Maybe as newspapers recognize the costs of it, they’ll do more reporting on it.

Update: And the parallel continues as journalists consider whether to call for visa retaliation.

It’s not clear if the U.S., a country that prides itself on having a free press, would resort to blocking Chinese journalists. But some journalists and China-watchers suggest that such a measure should be considered if the Chinese government prevents American news organizations from covering the country, a problem compounded by U.S. newspaper sites getting blocked and journalists self-censoring coverage of the Chinese government for fear of reprisal.

On Monday, The Washington Post editorial board called for a U.S. response to China’s “strong-arm tactics” with the media.

“Chinese journalists get an open door to the United States,” the Post editors wrote. “This reflects U.S. values and is fundamentally correct. But perhaps, if China continues to exclude and threaten American journalists, the United States should inject a little more symmetry into its visa policy.”

Virginia Doesn’t Want Detroit to Get Convention Dollars

About 14 months ago, I was at Netroots Nation in Providence, RI. RI has, like MI, been really battered by the Great Recession. Nevertheless, we had just seen Providence’s glorious WaterFire installment. And I had spent lots of time talking to local politicos getting a boost from Netroots Nation’s presence.

At a party that night, I got into a conversation with a top Netroots Nation organizer, describing a protest of GE’s shareholder meeting at Detroit’s Renaissance Center earlier that year. I described the responses people who had flown in for the event — including people who’d grown up in MI and people who’d never been in the state — had to seeing Detroit. Partly it was trauma in response to devastation of the city, the empty spaces, the decay. Partly it was a recognition of the energy and beauty that remain in the city. For Americans to see both the devastation and the hope of the city was, I thought, an important experience before the rest of the country follows the disinvestment and decline of Detroit.

The Netroots Nation person said, “What do you think about holding Netroots Nation in Detroit, so everyone gets that experience?”

I’m sure the NN organizers were already considering the idea, but I like to think my enthusiasm, as well as that of Eclectablog, who shortly thereafter joined into the conversation and added how much he drives into Detroit to go out, had a role in NN picking Detroit as the location for next year’s convention.

Yesterday, the Detroit News published a crazy op-ed, from a right wing operative who doesn’t even live in MI, claiming that NN’s selection to come to Detroit was all about unions and their purported failures.

Detroit’s bankruptcy has shed light on the ugly face of progressive governance, and is a haunting indicator of what can happen when government lets public-sector unions bleed taxpayers dry.

As the city faces difficult decisions about its financial future, one would expect progressives and labor interests to divert attention from the fallout.

But instead, they’re bringing Netroots Nation, a conference of progressive activists, to Detroit next year to promote the same model of government at the national level.

Eclectablog skewers the revisionist history of Detroit’s decline and the corporatist backing of the op-ed here.

This is the standard, boilerplate misdirection we’ve come to expect from corporatist groups funded by SPN and AFP like the Michigan’s Mackinac Center: portray teachers, once considered pillars in our community, as greedy for daring to ask for a living wage, good healthcare benefits, and, God-forbid, a pension that allows them retire without living in poverty.

It’s the same approach used by corporate sponsored groups and wealthy individuals like Dick Devos across the country on an ever-increasing level.

Oddly, Telford’s op-ed is posted under the topic of “Detroit Bankruptcy”. The fact is, however, it has nothing to do with Detroit’s bankruptcy. It’s a propaganda piece written by a corporatist living in Virginia who is attempting to rewrite Michigan history to suit his group’s anti-union agenda.

In Michigan, we know better. We know that the labor movement, which was born in Michigan, created the middle class. We know that unions brought us the 40-hour work week and raised the standard of living of our citizens so that they, too, could enjoy the benefits of a successful industrial manufacturing economy. They protect workers from the greed and excess of profit-minded corporations ensuring a safe workplace and sensible environmental protections.

It’s funny. Here’s a guy who lives in VA, a place that has benefitted from 12 years of massive government stimulus, going out of his way to speak out against Detroit — a city that owes a small part of its woes to policies set in the DC Metro area — winning convention dollars from a progressive organization (backed, I’m proud to say, by enthusiastic residents of the state).

How insecure do you have to be to go that far out of your way to discredit the idea of people from all over the states coming to Detroit to network, spend money, and have fun?

BREAKING: Globalization Is Dangerous

Globalization is dangerous.

But not, as it turns out, because it has gutted the middle class. Not even because a globalized supply chain has made it easier for our rivals to sabotage our defense programs, or that a globalized supply chain has led to a loss of manufacturing capacity that threatens our defense, to say nothing of our distinctly American commercial sectors.

Rather, retired Admiral James Stavridis, in a more popularized version of a piece he wrote for a National Defense University volume on the topic, argues that “deviant globalization,” whether that of drug traffickers, terrorists, counterfeiters, or hackers, poses a rising threat.

Convergence may be thought of as the dark side of globalization. It is the merger of a wide variety of mobile human activities, each of which is individually dangerous and whose sum represents a far greater threat.

I’m sure it is a threat. But Stavridis makes the same mistake just about everyone else makes when they consider criminal globalized networks to be a security threat: they ignore that there is little these illicit networks do that licit ones didn’t already pioneer. They ignore that the only thing that makes them illicit is state power, the same state power that corporatized globalization has weakened.

In fact Stavridis’ fourth point telling how to combat deviant globalization is notable for what it’s missing.

Fourth, we must shape and win the narrative. Many have said there is a “war of ideas.” That is not quite the right description. Rather, the United States is a “marketplace of ideas.” Our ideas are sound: democracy, liberty, freedom of speech and religion — all the values of the Enlightenment. They have a critical role in confronting the ideological underpinnings of crime and terror. Our strategic communications efforts are an important part of keeping our networks aligned and cohesive.

You see it? In spite of using the metaphor of the market to describe the realm of ideas, Stavridis neglects to mention that one of our ideas, so-called capitalism (or the marketplace itself!), that value of Enlightenment, is precisely the logic that has made globalization imperative.

If the way to beat these criminal globalized networks is to compete ideologically, but the ideological foundation our elites cling to most desperately is the same one the criminal globalized networks are exploiting so spectacularly, haven’t we already lost the battle of ideas?

Stavridis’ choice to ignore capitalism is probably why he doesn’t get the problem with his call to “follow the money.”

Third, we must follow the money. Huge sums of cash from these trafficking activities finance terrorists and insurgents such as the Taliban, as well as corruption. The money is used to undermine fragile democracies. Efforts to upend threat financing must be fused with international initiatives, move across U.S. agency lines and have the cooperation of the private-sector institutions involved.

It is true that globalized cash flows undermine weak governments (the same ones that otherwise might make these criminal globalized networks illicit). But that’s at least as true of the money looted from poorer countries and deposited, completely legally per western elites, in secrecy regimes, or of the hot money that destabilizes the global economy more generally. Moreover, one of the biggest impediments to tracking the flows of criminal globalized networks is that the so-called licit multinational banks they use to transfer their money are more interested in the profits from the money than in cooperating with increasingly weak states. So long as HSBC can get away with a wrist slap, after all, why would any multinational bank give up its customer base to American authorities?

Stavridis ends his column by citing Hardy’s warning about icebergs.

Just over a century ago , the poet Thomas Hardy wrote “The Convergence of the Twain” about the collision of the Titanic and the iceberg that sank it. “And as the smart ship grew/ In stature, grace, and hue/ In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.” There is an iceberg out there in the form of weapons of mass destruction; what is most worrisome is the convergence of such a weapon with a sophisticated global trafficking route enabled by cybercrime and the cash it generates. That is the convergence we must do all in our power to prevent.

Stavridis almost gets it. He almost gets it that these global trafficking routes, whether deemed licit or illicit by increasingly weak states, are the iceberg that is looming.

It’s just that he chooses to ignore the iceberg he can see for the parts he can’t see.

The Internet Didn’t Kill the Middle Class; Laxity and Apathy Did

KodakBldgAtlanta_mcclanahoochie-Flickr_modIn tandem with the release of his book, Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier’s interview with Salon generated a lot of hand-wringing across social media. It seems Lanier, one of our so-called intellectual visionaries, believes that the collapse of Kodak and its 140,000 jobs, and the rise of Instagram and its 13 jobs, exemplifies the killing field of the internet. Lanier theorizes good paying jobs that once supported a thriving middle class have disappeared as internet-enabled firms replaced them. As these jobs vaporized, so did necessary benefits. Here’s a key excerpt from the interview:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

What a crock of decade-late shit.

Where the hell was Lanier in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S. manufacturing sector nose-dived due to government policies created by corporate-acquired elected officials and appointees?

It wasn’t the internet that killed the middle class. The apathy of intellectuals and the technology elite did; too few bothered to point out the potential repercussions of NAFTA and other domestic job-depleting policies. In the absence of thought leaders, corporatists sold the public and their electeds on job creation anticipated from globalizing policies; they just didn’t tell us the jobs created wouldn’t be ours.

It wasn’t the rise of digitization that killed the middle class. It was the insufficiency of protests among U.S. brain power, including publicly-funded academics, failing to advocate for labor and home-grown innovation; their ignorance about the nature of blue collar jobs and the creative output they help realize compounded the problem.

Manufacturing has increasingly reduced man hours in tandem with productivity-increasing technological improvements. It wasn’t the internet that killed these jobs, though technology reduced some of them. The inability to plan for the necessary shift of jobs to other fields revealed the lack of comprehensive, forward-thinking manufacturing and labor policies.

It all smells of Not-My-Problem, i.e., “I’m educated, technology-enabled, white collar; those stupid low-tech blue collar folks’ jobs aren’t my problem.”

Until suddenly it is. Continue reading

John Galt’s Trail of Death and Destruction Continues to Grow

Building destroyed in West, Texas fertilizer explosion. (Courtesy of State Farm via Flickr under Creative Commons license.)

Building destroyed in West, Texas fertilizer explosion. (Courtesy of State Farm via Flickr under Creative Commons license.)

John Galt has been a deadly and destructive guy lately, with the largest of his most recent attacks taking place in the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh on April 24 where the death toll has now tragically topped 900 and the fertilizer storage facility explosion in West, Texas on April 17 that miraculously killed only fourteen people but injured over 200 and caused damage that is now estimated to exceed $100 million.

In an interesting development, Bangladesh has shown that at least on some fronts it is more civilized than Texas. Both the building’s owner and the engineer accused of colluding with the owner to add three unregulated floors on top of the building have been arrested, while Texas lawmakers, previously known for their refusal to vote in favor of disaster relief when it was in New York and New Jersey, now have called for socializing the losses in Texas. Of course, since the fertilizer plant owner (who has not been arrested) only carried $1 million in liability insurance (and since Texas doesn’t require liability insurance for many businesses operating with dangerous materials), those losses are bound to be socialized anyway.

From CBS News on the response to the disaster in Bangladesh:

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith spoke as the government cracked down on those it blamed for the disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. It suspended Savar’s mayor and arrested an engineer who had called for the building’s evacuation last week, but was also accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the eight-story structure. The building owner was arrested earlier.

The government appears to be attempting to fend off accusations that it is in part to blame for the tragedy because of weak oversight of the building’s construction.

It looks like Muhith went a bit too far in trying to deflect responsibility from the government:

During a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi, Muhith said the disaster would not harm Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is by far the country’s biggest source of export income.

“The present difficulties … well, I don’t think it is really serious — it’s an accident,” he said. “And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”

The article goes on to point out that Muhith had made a similar hollow promise to improve safety conditions several months ago when a fire in a garment factory killed over a hundred workers.

In a tragic testament to the shoddy conditions in these facilities in Bangladesh, we have word this morning of another eight deaths in a fire in a garment factory. However, this time the fire was after hours and it wasn’t workers who were killed: Continue reading

John Galt Kills Texans in Massive Fertilizer Plant Explosion

West Texas

Google Maps satellite view of West Fertilizer and its proximity to West Middle School, along with many houses and apartments.

Who needs pesky safety regulations or zoning laws when there is money to made running a fertilizer plant? Sadly, the small Texas town of West, which is just north of Waco, is suffering the consequences of unregulated free enterprise today, as a massive explosion at West Fertilizer has leveled much of the town. Perhaps the only remotely fortunate aspect of this tragedy is that it occurred at 8 pm local time and so West Middle School, which burned after the explosion, was not full of children.

A look at the satellite image above shows the folly of putting “free enterprise” ahead of sensible zoning laws. At almost 20 miles north of Waco, Texas, one thing that is in abundance in the region is open space (I’ve driven past this spot several times in the last two or three years–it’s desolate), and yet this fertilizer plant is immediately adjacent to a large apartment building (see the photo at the top of this article for how that building fared in the explosion) and very close to a middle school. There is no reason at all for any other building to be within two or three miles of a facility that produces material that is so explosive.

The Texas tradition of low taxes is also having an impact on this tragedy. Note this passage in the New York Times account of the disaster:

It began with a smaller fire at the plant, West Fertilizer, just off Interstate 35, about 20 miles north of Waco that was attended by local volunteer firefighters, said United States Representative Bill Flores. “The fire spread and hit some of these tanks that contain chemicals to treat the fertilizer,” Mr. Flores said, “and there was an explosion which caused wide damage.”

That’s right. This fertilizer plant and other businesses in West apparently don’t pay enough in local taxes to support a municipal fire department, and so the first responders to a fire at a fertilizer plant were volunteer firefighters. Sadly, several of these volunteers are now missing:

The town’s volunteer firefighters responded to a call at the plant about 6 p.m., said Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton. Muska was among them, and he and his colleagues were working to evacuate the area around the plant when the blast followed about 50 minutes later. Muska said it knocked off his fire helmet and blew out the doors and windows of his nearby home.

Five or six volunteer firefighters were at the plant fire when the explosion happened, Muska said, and not all have been accounted for.

Ammonium nitrate, one of the most commonly used fertilizers is also highly explosive. It was the primary component of Timothy McVeigh’s bomb that destroyed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Texas, especially, should know of the dangers inherent in fertilizer plants, as this disaster occurs very near the anniversary of the Texas City disaster: Continue reading

Carl Levin Takes on Tax Cheats and Dark Money in Retirement Statement

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Carl Levin, a pretty old but very healthy 78, but relatively young given MI’s very old Congressional delegation, announced his retirement today.

I don’t always agree with Levin. But he is one of the smartest, most effective (when he wants to be) Senators in the Senate. I will miss having him represent me in DC.

I expect Gary Peters will replace Levin.

I’m just as interested in how Levin will go out. Here’s most of his statement:

I have decided not to run for re-election in 2014.

This decision was extremely difficult because I love representing the people of Michigan in the U.S. Senate and fighting for the things that I believe are important to them.

As Barbara and I struggled with the question of whether I should run again, we focused on our belief that our country is at a crossroads that will determine our economic health and security for decades to come. We decided that I can best serve my state and nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us that I am in a position to help address; in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.

Here are some of those issues. Years of bipartisan work by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that I chair have shed light on tax avoidance schemes that are a major drain on our treasury. The huge loss of corporate tax receipts caused by the shift of U.S. corporate tax revenue to offshore tax havens is but one example of the egregious tax loopholes that we must end. Thirty of our most profitable companies paid no taxes over a recent three year period although they had over $150 billion in profits.

Tax avoidance schemes that have no economic justification or purpose other than to avoid paying taxes may be legal but they should not be. These schemes add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. They lead to cuts in education, research, national security, law enforcement, infrastructure, food safety and other important investments in our nation. And they add to the tax burden of ordinary Americans who have to pick up the slack and accelerate the economic inequality in our country. I want to fight to bring an end to this unjustified drain on the Treasury.

Second, I want to ensure that the manufacturing renaissance that has led Michigan’s economic comeback continues. We’ve made progress in building the partnerships we need to help U.S. manufacturers succeed, but the next two years will be crucial to sustaining and building on that progress.

A third item I want to tackle is a growing blight on our political system that I believe I can help address: the use of secret money to fund political campaigns. Our tax laws are supposed to prevent secret contributions to tax exempt organizations for political purposes. My Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations needs to look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy.

Finally, the next two years will also be important in dealing with fiscal pressures on our military readiness. As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am determined to do all I can to address that issue. I also believe we need to pursue the rapid transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. And, as our troops come home, we must do a better job of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.

These issues will have an enormous impact on the people of Michigan and the nation for years to come, and we need to confront them. I can think of no better way to spend the next two years than to devote all of my energy and attention to taking on these challenges.

Carl Levin has said his priorities in the next two years will include finding a way to tax the rich and prevent the rich from stealing our elections. Having made the decision he will not need those rich donors to fund his reelection, he will have significant flexibility to piss them off.

Levin has never been known to shy away from pissing people off in any case.

May Senator Levin go out in style, taking on those rich looters who are gutting our country.

 

Enjoy A Valentine’s Day Sampler

Made just for you via cryptogram.com

Made just for you via cryptogram.com

It’s difficult lately for me to sit down and spend time on a blogpost. I manage a handful of minutes here and there to do reading or research. An email may take hours to draft.

But there’s too much juicy stuff floating around deserving more attention. I’m going to gather content as I see it and aggregate it into a post when I have time, rather than let them slip by. Perhaps you can make more of them than I can.

•  MIT Technology Review acknowledges the dawn of a new age in Welcome to the Malware-Industrial Complex. I’m rather surprised at the tone of this piece; it’s not au courant, rather a bit behind the times since the MIC launched more than a handful of years ago. Two important points emerge: 1) Zero-day exploits are being traded like weaponry–think very hard about the source of these exploits and ask yourself why they are tolerated in government computing environments, let alone any other production environment; 2) This new age is the military face of the paradigm shift from the industrial to the information age. Weapons are information; they are no longer separate from the weapons themselves. With this in mind, the last two grafs of this article display the already-anachronistic thinking of the author and his sources.

•  Syracuse University MA/PhD student Seth Long performs a rather fascinating analysis on alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner’s manifesto. But equally fascinating is his earlier analysis on Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto. Compare the two assessments, and then ask yourself what any blogger’s online writings might say about them if Long’s analytical process is eventually automated with algorithms. Scary, hmm?

•  Really great long read at Bloomberg Businessweek on the unmasking of a Chinese hacker by a Dell Computers malware expert. This is a snapshot of asymmetric warfare in progress; it’s not as if China has not told us rather candidly (and more than a decade ago) they would engage us in this manner as well as in other non-internet battlefields. Any surprise on the part of U.S. government officials at this point is utterly ridiculous–it’s either feigned or it’s should-get-another-day-job stupidity.

•  I’m so annoyed by this long read in Aeon Magazine–a really great mag, by the way–that I may yet muster the time to write something longer. Author Damien Walter is rather specious in his identification of a new “creator culture” and its necessity to society’s continued success. The problem isn’t that we need to adopt and nurture a new creator culture; it’s that we killed the one we had quite willingly over the last 25-35 years by offshoring production and the subsequent commodification of goods. We allowed corporations and their one-percenter shareholders to tell us that getting our hands dirty through craftsmanship and in manufacturing was bad (mostly bad for their profit margins). We’ve become a culture that doesn’t fix anything; we buy replacements made overseas in third world countries. We’ve lost our can-do spirit along with this shift, and only recently have both the economic crisis and a new hipster-hobbyist ethos encouraged a resurgence of the do-it-yourself handyperson. Unless we’re conscious of our role in killing creativity, nurturing it again through supporting Etsy and Maker Faires is merely temporary relief from the crush of profit-driven consumerism.

•  But perhaps all of this will be moot tomorrow if the cosmos decides to make a bank shot with asteroid 2012 DA14. This “small” asteroid will fly within 17,200 miles of earth tomorrow afternoon. This is awfully bloody close–close enough that scientists say disruption of cellphone and other satellite service is not impossible, but unlikely. That’s a whisker’s breadth, in cosmic scale. Best to check in tomorrow afternoon after 3:00 pm CST to see if we’re still here. See you then.

DHS: Happy to Spend $$ To Keep People Out, But Not Illicit Trade

A few weeks ago, a nonpartisan group revealed that the Federal government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other law enforcement combined. Altogether it spends $18 billion a year–most of it to keep people out of the country and prosecute and deport those who get in without documentation.

The United States spends more money on immigration enforcement — nearly $18 billion in the 2012 fiscal year — than on its other law enforcement agencies combined, according to a report released Monday from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

That spending went to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and US-Visit, a program that helps states and localities identify undocumented immigrants.

By contrast, the U.S. spent $14.4 billion — combined — on its other prime law enforcement agencies: the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Today, Janet Napolitano basically told Congress to fuck itself and its demand that all shipping containers bound for the US be screened. Apparently, the one time $16 billion price tag is too much to ensure that our trade cargo undergoes the same scrutiny actual people do.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday suggested that her department does not plan on meeting a congressional requirement that all foreign cargo shipped to the United States be scanned for dangerous materials that could be used in a terrorism attack.

Congress in 2007 approved a law that requires all ship cargo bound for the United States be screened for weapon-usable nuclear and radioactive materials and other dangerous substances before the vessels sails away from foreign seaports. After missing an initial deadline last July to come into compliance with the law, the Homeland Security Department now has until July 2014 to meet the mandate.

“I actually looked into this issue very thoroughly,” Napolitano said during a Wilson Center event here.

Last spring, Napolitano told lawmakers it would cost $16 billion to deploy screening technology at all of the approximately 700 international seaports that send cargo to the United States.

“It’s one of those things where as we have grown and become more knowledgeable about how to really manage risk, we have recognized that mandates like that sound very good but in point of fact are extraordinarily expensive and that there are better and more efficient ways to accomplish the same result,” Napolitano said on Thursday.

Mind you, what shipping container screening is being done is largely included in that $18 billion a year figure, which includes Customs and Border Patrol’s budget of $3.5 billion. So fulfilling the Congressional mandate would only inflate the larger number.

Moreover, I’m willing to entertain the notion that it doesn’t make sense to scan each and every shipping container.

You know? In the same way it simply doesn’t make sense to make each and every airplane passenger take off her shoes and go through a backscatter machine?

But the disparity in what DHS is willing to spend to keep people out of the country as compared to what it is willing to spend to keep contraband trade and weapons out is telling.

It makes it clear, first of all, that DHS doesn’t believe it has to fulfill every Congressional mandate, including the one that mandates DHS round up 400,000 people a year to deport. I’m not saying I agree with that; I’m noting that DHS chooses when to follow the requirements Congress sets.

It also makes clear that importers would never be asked to undergo the same inconvenience and cost that actual people do (ultimately, importers should be paying the cost to ensure their shipping containers are safe, not taxpayers).

It appears, then, DHS is far more interested in keeping undocumented people–whether they present a risk to the US or not–out of this country than it is keep contraband trade out.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel Did ACLU and EFF Just Help the NSA Get Inside Your Smart Phone? http://t.co/DwYP3Va4hw
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bmaz @espinsegall @rickhasen @OrinKerr Right. I am convinced there were already 5 votes but that RBG herself wasn't ready to do it on Perry.
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bmaz RT @ggreenwald: Can't believe that the agency that tortured, kidnapped, rendered, drones wedding parties, & destroys evidence would hack Se…
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bmaz RT @ggreenwald: If there's an award for Most Unsympathetic Surveillance Victim of the Millennium, Dianne Feinstein & her Committee has to b…
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bmaz Guilt by association and retconning reality http://t.co/dEiPYKOW9G via @@APubDef Particularized suspicion is on the endangered species list
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bmaz RT @NekoCase: This German dude is LITERALLY wearing an "Ass hat" http://t.co/jFSNKZYCJY
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bmaz @larsolsson Heh, no, not surprised. But pretty amused that the big Preet push is on across the board. And, yeah, Scheiderman too.
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bmaz @larsolsson Has weed already been legalized there in New York? Cause they are all smoking something.
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bmaz HAHAHAHAHA " aggressive Manhattan federal prosecutor Preet Bharara" HAHAHAHAHA *gasp* HAHAHAHAHAHAHA http://t.co/9ipzgPCNlT via @POLITICO
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JimWhiteGNV No, We Aren’t All Going to Die Because Ebola Patients Are Coming to US for Treatment http://t.co/3w7OSvB1yZ
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emptywheel RT @TimothyS: BAE buys IN-Q-TEL funded imagery and analytic company, firming up its intel ops. http://t.co/onrzEPCYpt
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emptywheel RT @mollyknefel: Misdemeanor arrests under de Blasio are higher than Bloomberg, with same racial disparity (86% black or Latino) http://t.c…
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