Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday Notes -- August 4

That's right. Senators Graham and McCain are in Cairo, at the request of the president, to do what they can to calm tensions in Egypt.
Here is the link, about which I know nothing...
BBC link via Tony Karon below confirms the story.
"The president reached out to us, and I said obviously I'd be glad to go," Graham told reporters outside the Senate. "We want to deliver a unified message that killing the opposition is becoming more and more like a coup," and to encourage the military to move toward holding elections. 
The visit came amid a turbulent political situation as talks between the ruling military junta and the Muslim Brotherhood have reached a deadlock following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. 
"Informed sources" told MENA [Middle East News Agency] late on Sunday that US Deputy Secretary of State Williams Burns and the ministers of foreign affairs from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had visited the Brotherhood's senior official Khairat al-Shater in his prison during their visits to Egypt’s capital. But the group denied the news in an official statement affirming that talks should be only held with Morsi as the "legitimate representative of Egyptians.”
Tony Karon is incredulous.
(Me, too.)

This guest post at Aziz Poonawalla's blog describes the challenges facing a mother during Ramadan in America.
My kids like most people view Ramadan as just needs of the body being deprived. they grumble about the hunger they feel when fasting, or the lack of sleep because of the long nightly prayers, but Ramadan is much more than that. It is month when you strive mentally and spiritually to be a better person. But how do you get this message across to kids? 
I have tried by picking on every teachable moment. Those moments when you see your kids acting like they normally do, arguing about petty things, like who gets the bigger slice of pizza, or who gets to sit where in the car. their constant dodging of household/school chores, their wanting to spend the entire day playing video games or watching T.V. All those present teachable moments, to talk about doing the right thing, making the right choices, even if that choice is more difficult and it is easier to just give up, or just give in. As a mom you need to pick and choose your battles, and yet there are times when they win, and you are left exhausted and defeated.

I've been reading Joan Cole's reports and opinions for years and was pleased last week to see him appear on PBS News Hour as a guest. This morning he says what many of us have been thinking.  He makes several good points.

How the GOP Libya Witch Hunt Made us Close our Mideast Embassies and Crippled US Diplomacy
...the GOP is inadvertently pushing the US into a posture of dangerous diplomatic weakness. This weakness is clear in the unprecedented closing of 21 US embassies in the Middle East this weekend because of a vague terrorist threat apparently emanating from “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” based in Yemen. 
The Obama administration most likely took this weird step to insulate itself from any further witch hunts of the sort the Republicans launched over the tragic attack on a CIA safe house doubling as a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2011. That a radical extremist cell should have attacked in this way was a surprise, since the radicals had been persecuted by Muammar Gaddafi, and the US had helped overthrow the dictator. I was in Benghazi in summer of 2011 and was told that personal security was not so bad (you wouldn’t be mugged as an individual), but that militias might steal from, e.g., a company. The existence of a set of terrorist cells that would and could kill ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was not clear. When the surprise attack was launched, the Libyan government organized a special forces unit to extract the remaining dozens of Americans and get them to Tripoli, with it did without further loss of life. There is no reason to think that the Obama administration behaved inappropriately through the crisis. 
But the constant innuendos on the Hill that some sort of malfeasance occurred in Benghazi has pushed the Obama administration to cover its collective behind. So the Tunisian and Libyan embassies are skeleton crews, with very few personnel, and their families have been sent back to the states. An embassy can’t be effective like that. But the embassies are less vulnerable to becoming Washington scandals if there is almost no one there, reducing casualties if there were another attack.
Ezra Klein noticed the same story I did in the NY Times.
Other healthcare/ Obamacare links are also included.
Some states such as Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and New Hampshire have approved their rates but have not released any information about premiums and say they don’t plan to do so until Oct. 1. 
The insurance rates may vary by a person’s age, county of residence and whether they smoke. Women cannot be charged more than men, and consumers cannot be turned away or charged more because of health problems, as they can now in most states. 
The states that have released data on their approved premiums have done so in various forms. California, for example, provides details about all the benefits in each plan in each region of the state. Florida just provides an average premium across the state.
This link is to a podcast and is not as easy to navigate as most.
Monocle is an hour-long radio program. Joseph Dana's contribution is toward the end (about 52:00 - 58:00) but is worth the trouble to listen. Click on "Listen to episode." Program icon is at the very bottom of the screen and the whole program must download before getting to the part he links.

"Granting large numbers of Palestinians permits" is not the expression of largesse it seems. And it is nothing new. This has been going on for years, in part because it generates a welcome spike in retail sales in the Israeli economy as growing numbers of Palestinians take advantage of the "holiday."  Seen at a deeper level, this gesture simultaneously serves to keep the West Bank economy as weak as possible while simultaneously chipping away at the social fabric. ("I get to go but you can't.")

Joseph Dana is a fine journalist.
 Recommended Reading: 'Grassroots Change' Q&A on Paid Sick Leave and Preemption
About $1.1 billion in emergency department costs could be saved each year if every U.S. worker had access to paid sick days, according to Vicki Shabo, the Director of Work and Family Programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Shabo recently spoke with Grassroots Change about the importance of paid sick leave and the on-the-ground efforts to enact the essential public health initiative at the local level—while also battling government preemption efforts that would take away local ability to improve sick leave policies. 
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a trend,” she said. “It’s sobering and undeniable. There are preemption bills this year that have been introduced in 13 or so states, and several of them have passed. Last year we saw Louisiana pass preemption, and until we alerted some of the local groups on the ground, no one was paying attention to it.”
If this doesn't make you uncomfortable you need to see a doctor.  Or something. 
The National Security Agency’s dominant role as the nation’s spy warehouse has spurred frequent tensions and turf fights with other federal intelligence agencies that want to use its surveillance tools for their own investigations, officials say. 
[...]   Officials at the other agencies, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the tensions, say the National Security Agency’s reluctance to allow access to data has been particularly frustrating because of post-Sept. 11 measures that were intended to encourage information-sharing among federal agencies. 
In fact, a change made in 2008 in the executive order governing intelligence was intended to make it easier for the security agency to share surveillance information with other agencies if it was considered “relevant” to their own investigations. It has often been left to the national intelligence director’s office to referee the frequent disputes over how and when the security agency’s spy tools can be used. The director’s office declined to comment for this article.
Typically, the agencies request that the N.S.A. target individuals or groups for surveillance, search its databases for information about them, or share raw intelligence, rather than edited summaries, with them. If those under scrutiny are Americans, approval from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is required.
Added later:
This Reuters story makes several good points about to the downside of what happens when generic information is tossed around with the best of good intentions.
The military term mission creep comes to mind.
Exclusive: U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans
(Reuters) - A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.
►If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. 
►A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned. 
"It's just like laundering money - you work it backwards to make it clean," said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics. 
Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using "parallel construction" may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants. 
►In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a U.S. citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD [Special Operations Division] and from an NSA intercept. 
"I was pissed," the prosecutor said. "Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you're trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court." The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said. 
►Since its inception, the SOD's mandate has expanded to include narco-terrorism, organized crime and gangs. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the unit's annual budget. A recent LinkedIn posting on the personal page of a senior SOD official estimated it to be $125 million. 
Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as DICE. 
The DICE database contains about 1 billion records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.


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