Thursday, January 30, 2014

War, Protest, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Olivia Newton-John, Stalin

Pete Seeger Memorial Playlist:

| Tue Jan. 28, 2014 11:13 AM GMT
pete seeger 
Pete Seeger performing at the opening of the Washington labor canteen, 1944. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is present.
Pete Seeger, the folk-music legend and activist, died on Monday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He was 94. His impact his on American culture was profound, as he influenced popular music and iconic musicians, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, for decades.
"Once called 'America's tuning fork,' Pete Seeger believed deeply in the power of song," President Barack Obama said in a statement on Tuesday. "Over the years, Pete used his voice—and his hammer—to strike blows for worker's rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along."
Here are some cool clips, songs, and text for you to check out while reflecting on Seeger's life and music:
1. Pete Seeger sings in Barcelona about the Spanish Civil War: "56 years ago, I had some friends who came to Spain," Seeger tells the crowd. "Some of them did come back—and this is the song that they taught me. It's a song of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion."

2. Seeger testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), 1955: For refusing to testify about his time in the Communist Party, he was later sentenced to a year in prison for contempt. But the conviction was overturned. Here's an excerpt from his testimony:
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it....
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

3. The Weavers sing "Goodnight, Irene":
And while we're at it, here's Eric Clapton's version:

4. When Pete Seeger hosted a TV show devoted to good folk music: It aired in the mid-1960s and was called Rainbow Quest. Here's the episode with Johnny Cash and June Carter:

5. Seeger sings a protest of the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson on the Smothers Brothers—and gets censored by CBS: His performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy"—in which Johnson is essentially labeled the "big fool"—was initially nixed from a 1967 broadcast for being too political. A few months later, Seeger was invited back, and Americans got to watch:

6. Seeger wrote a song denouncing Joseph Stalin—and got a fun Fox News headline out of it: The folk singer's previous support for the Soviet Union had been a less-than-flattering part of his legacy. (He left the Communist Party in the 1950s.) In 2007, Seeger revealed he had written a new yodeling blues song blasting Stalin, titled, "The Big Joe Blues."
"It's [my] first overt song about the Soviet Union," Seeger told the Associated Press. "I think I should have though, when I was in the Soviet Union, I should have asked, 'Can I see one of the old gulags?'"
Here are some lyrics from "The Big Joe Blues":
I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe. He ruled with an iron hand. He put an end to the dreams of so many in every land....
I got the Big Joe Bloo-ew-ew-ews!
Seeger remarked that it was the kind of song his old friend Woody Guthrie might have written in the 1950s.

7. Seeger sings "We Shall Overcome" on Democracy Now! and discusses his late wife Toshi Seeger:

8. Sam Cooke's fantastic cover of Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer":

9. Olivia Newton-John covers Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

10. "Bring Them Home"—a song for Vietnam and Iraq: After President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, Seeger rewrote and re-recorded his Vietnam-era number, "Bring Them Home," with Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, and Steve Earle. The new lyrics included, "Now we don't want to fight for oil/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home/Underneath some foreign soil/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home."
Here he is performing the song in the 1970s:
And here's Bruce Springsteen playing it on his Seeger Sessions tour in 2006:

11. Seeger performing "This Land Is Your Land" (with Springsteen, naturally) at the Lincoln Memorial: They were celebrating the election of President Obama, shortly before his 2009 inauguration.

12. And here's Seeger singing Bob Dylan's "Forever Young"—for an Amnesty International benefit album:

War, Protest, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Olivia Newton-John, Stalin

Jon Stewart Sticks It To Michael Grimm, Staten Island And NY1 (Sorta) After SOTU Dustup

I'm not sure who got the sharpest end of the stick on "The Daily Show" last night: Rep. Michael Grimm, Staten Island, or... NY1.
Taking on the big bullying job that went down after the State of the Union Address, Jon Stewart went after the foul-mouthed congressman and his home borough, but not NY1 reporter Michael Scotto... just his TV station, a little.

"To be fair, 'I will throw you off this f-----g balcony' is a relatively standard and traditional Staten Island goodbye," Stewart wisecracks in the segment, which starts at about 4:45 in the player below.
"But you know what's almost more upsetting than knowing that Republicans from day one planned to sabotage the administration in every way that they knew how? Or that the guy threatening to hurl a NY1 reporter off a balcony is not a thug in a 'Batman' film, but someone we elected to Congress? Or that the public persona these folks display is so radically different from how they behave otherwise?
"It's that he went after a NY1 reporter... NY1 is the pulse of our city -- from the latest theater openings to the latest subway closings... to them just literally sitting there reading you the paper. They read it to you -- like you're a little baby..."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is Michael Grimm Man Enough to Serve?

News Desk

January 29, 2014

Michael Grimm was not among the four Republicans asked to respond to the State of the Union address last night, but he might as well have been. Not one to cede the spotlight casually, the representative from Staten Island eclipsed the dull speeches of his colleagues with a vintage, action-packed Michael Grimm performance. Footage of a United States congressman physically threatening a reporter may not have been the Republican Party’s preferred story of the evening, but it was the one that Grimm delivered:
Shortly afterward, NY1 released a transcript of the incident. After obtaining Grimm’s brief response to the President’s address, the political reporter Michael Scotto began to ask a question on another topic—a federal investigation into the congressman’s campaign fund-raising. Grimm walked away as the question was asked. After Scotto signed off, Grimm, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a former F.B.I. agent who worked undercover, came back into the frame with his chest puffed, backing Scotto out of the picture:
GRIMM: Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this fucking balcony.

SCOTTO: Why? I just wanted to ask you…
(Cross talk.)
GRIMM: If you ever do that to me again…
SCOTTO: Why? Why? It’s a valid question.
(Cross talk.)
GRIMM: No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.
After Scotto signed off, Grimm, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a former F.B.I. agent who worked undercover, came back into the frame with his chest puffed, backing Scotto out of the picture:

GRIMM: Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this fucking balcony.

SCOTTO: Why? I just wanted to ask you…
(Cross talk.)
GRIMM: If you ever do that to me again…
SCOTTO: Why? Why? It’s a valid question.
(Cross talk.)
GRIMM: No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.

In Grimm’s world, there are men of great character, whose conduct stands above questioning, and boys, who come—as Grimm once put it to me—only to “demean and belittle” it. The reporter “insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot,” Grimm said in a statement, so he “verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect.”
The exchange with Scotto had a familiar ring to it. In 2011, I travelled to Grimm’s Washington office to interview him about his work as an undercover F.B.I. agent with a paid informant and con man named Josef von Habsburg. I also asked Grimm about a 1999 night-club incident in which Grimm, who was an agent at the time, was accused by an off-duty N.Y.P.D. officer of threatening a fellow-patron (“I’ll fuckin’ make him disappear where nobody will find him,” Grimm is alleged to have said), waving a gun at the officer (“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him”), and using racially charged language in the fracas’s aftermath (“All the white people get out of here”).
Grimm denied all of these allegations—and did so again, later, through a spokesperson. He also called me a “liar” working on a “chop job.” “You don’t rate to come and question me on it, quite frankly,” he said, before dismissing me from his office. After The New Yorker published the story, in May of 2011, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate at the time, called for the N.Y.P.D. to release any files pertaining to the night-club incident—files for which I had also filed public-records requests. Those requests remain unfulfilled. Grimm, for his part, called the story “fiction,” “a witch hunt,” and “a hatchet job” perpetrated by the Democratic Party. For a moment, his past seemed to fade into the shadows as his congressional star began to rise.
Boys will be boys, though. In 2011, a reporter at the Daily News uncovered Grimm’s ties to a convicted felon in Texas named Carlos Luquis. A fellow former F.B.I. agent, Luquis had served as a director of an energy firm that Grimm co-owned. Prior to that, he’d served two years of a twelve-year federal sentence for fraud.
In 2012, another “boy”—in this case, a female reporter, Alison Leigh Cowan—reported extensively on allegations that an aide to a New York City rabbi had helped Grimm collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable campaign contributions, much of it in envelopes full of cash. Cowan later reported that yet another one of Grimm’s business associates, a partner in a failed Upper East Side health-food restaurant, had been accused of having ties to the Gambino crime family. Both the House Ethics Committee and the Justice Department are reported to have opened investigations into Grimm.
Grimm again denied any wrongdoing, and coasted to reëlection in 2012. Since then, his only brushes with impropriety involved reports that he had sex with a woman in a Brooklyn bar bathroom and a strange incident in which Grimm claimed that vandals smashed the windows of his Staten Island office in order to wipe the hard drives on his campaign computers. After Grimm announced that the attacks were a “politically motivated crime” and an “assault on democracy,” police could find no evidence that the computers were tampered with at all. An eighth-grader later confessed to the vandalism.
Then, two weeks ago, federal authorities arrested still another of Grimm’s associates, a Texas woman who allegedly funnelled more than ten thousand dollars in illegal funds into his campaign. (Grimm denies any wrongdoing.) The arrest raises questions about what Grimm knew of her actions and whether federal investigators may be actively pursuing the congressman himself for fund-raising improprieties during the 2010 campaign. They are sensible questions for a local New York reporter to ask Grimm. And Grimm’s constituents might expect him to be man enough to answer.
Evan Ratliff is the C.E.O. of The Atavist.
Read the rest of our State of the Union coverage: John Cassidy on the power of Obama’s speech, Jeff Shesol on executive orders, Amy Davidson on Cory Remsburg and the meaning of war, and a live chat about the speech with Davidson, Steve Coll, Rebecca Mead, and Evan Osnos.
Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty

Obama’s Call to End Tragedies Angers Pro-tragedy Wing in Congress

The Borowitz Report

January 29, 2014
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — President Obama’s call during his State of the Union address to “stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans” received a frosty response from the pro-tragedy wing in Congress last night.
After Mr. Obama made his controversial stopping-tragedies remark, prominent pro-tragedy members of Congress looked on in stony silence, refusing to applaud.
“I thought it was offensive and inappropriate,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana). “If the President wants coöperation from Congress, he should refrain from his divisive and inflammatory anti-tragedy rhetoric.”
The pro-tragedy lobby is among the most powerful in Washington, spending millions annually to defeat politicians who oppose tragedies.
Another congressman with a strong pro-tragedy voting record, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), also blasted the President’s remark, accusing Mr. Obama of conducting a “war on tragedy.”
“If the President really thinks he is going to prevent more tragedies, he should be prepared for a fight,” Rep. Wilson said. “The American people’s right to tragedies is protected by the United States Constitution.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In Defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist

Pete Seeger sings with fellow activists at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, 1963. (photo: Adger Cowans/Getty Images)
Pete Seeger sings with fellow activists at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, 1963. (photo: Adger Cowans/Getty Images)

By Bhaskar Sunkara, Al Jazeera America
29 January 14

Like his party associates, Seeger was consistently on the right side of history

hen the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94, remembrances of him, unsurprisingly, focused less on his music than on his social activism. All the better - Seeger, the epitome of tireless commitment to "the cause," would have liked it that way.
Some comments were laudatory, praising every aspect of his advocacy. But most of them struck the balanced tone of The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews, who tweeted: "I love and will miss Pete Seeger but let's not gloss over that fact that he was an actual Stalinist."
Such attempts at balance miss the mark. It's not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.
This point is not to apologize for the moral and social catastrophe that was state socialism in the 20th century, but rather to draw a distinction between the role of Communists when in power and when in opposition. A young worker in the Bronx passing out copies of the Daily Worker in 1938 shouldn't be conflated with the nomenklatura that oversaw labor camps an ocean away.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, time after time American Communists such as Seeger were on the right side of history - and through their leadership, they encouraged others to join them there.
Communists ran brutal police states in the Eastern bloc, but in Asia and Africa they found themselves at the helm of anti-colonial struggles, and in the United States radicals represented the earliest and more fervent supporters of civil rights and other fights for social emancipation. In the 1930s, Communist Party members led a militant anti-racist movement among Alabama sharecroppers that called for voting rights, equal wages for women and land for landless farmers. Prominent and unabashedly Stalinist figures such as Mike Gold, Richard Wright and Granville Hicks pushed Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to be more inclusive and led the mass unionization drives of the era. These individuals, bound together by membership in an organization most ordinary Americans came to fear and despise, played an outsize and largely positive role in American politics and culture. Seeger was one of the last surviving links to this great legacy.
"Stateside Communists were the underdogs, fighting the establishment for justice - the victims of censorship and police repression, not its perpetrators."
American communism was different during those years. It wasn't gray, bureaucratic and rigid, as it was in the U.S.S.R., but creative and dynamic. Irving Howe thought it was a put-on, a "brilliant masquerade" that fought for the right causes but in a deceptive, opportunistic way. But there was an undeniable charm to the Communist Party - an organization that hosted youth dances and socials, as well as militant rallies - that first attracted Seeger. One need only reread the old transcripts from his 1955 run-in with the House Un-American Activities Committee to see the difference between the stodginess of the interrogators and the crackling wit of the young firebrand.
Stateside Communists were the underdogs, fighting the establishment for justice - the victims of censorship and police repression, not its perpetrators.
Seeger, like other party members, came to regret the illusions he held about the Soviet Union. He apologized for thinking that "Stalin was simply a 'hard-driver' and not a supremely cruel misleader." But he never abandoned his commitment to organized radical politics. Along with Angela Davis and other prominent former Communist Party members, he helped form the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a democratic socialist group, in 1991.
Remarking on Seeger, Bruce Springsteen once said that "he'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament to the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends."
In stark contrast to the role played by state socialists abroad, that's a good way to describe the legacy of the Communist Party at home, a legacy Seeger never recanted.
See Also: Here's the Amazing Transcript of Pete Seeger Pissing Off the House Un-American Activities Committee

Bragg plays tribute to Pete Seeger

Republicans Promise to Respond to State of Union with Grumpiest Faces Ever

The Borowitz Report

January 28, 2014

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, congressional Republicans are promising to respond with what they call their grumpiest faces ever.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) confirmed that the G.O.P. have been practicing in front of mirrors for weeks in the hopes of creating just the right grouchy-face look for the TV cameras.
“Tonight, President Obama is going to lay out his vision for this country,” he said. “We owe it to the American people to look like someone just pissed in our cornflakes.”
For some, the task of looking crabby “is just another day at the office,” said Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), widely viewed by his fellow-Republicans as the reigning sourpuss in Congress.
“It’s a gift I have,” he said. “It’s one of the perks of being a steaming cauldron of spite.”
Perhaps the most sustained performance of sulkiness will fall to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will be seated behind the President and therefore will be on camera for the entire duration of the address.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me to look sullen for an entire hour, but I’m up to it,” he said. “It helps that I will be in the same room with so many people I despise.”
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Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94

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Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press

Monday, January 27, 2014

Will Any Democrat Even Challenge Hillary in 2016?

Rational Irrationality

January 24, 2014

The 2016 election is still almost three years away, but, already, it can’t be avoided. Time magazine, in its cover story this week, asked, “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” And now comes the Times with two more cover stories devoted to the former First Lady. In Sunday’s magazine, the writer Amy Chozick splashes down on “Planet Hillary,” and provides a very readable portrait of the many strange and wonderful creatures she finds there.
The real news is on the front of Friday’s paper, though, and it comes from Nicholas Confessore, who covers money and politics. Right now, twenty-four months before the Iowa primary, and at a point when not a single serious candidate has declared that she or he is running for President, Priorities USA, the Democratic Super PAC that raised and spent wads of cash in support of President Obama’s 2012 reëlection campaign, is putting its money and expertise behind—you guessed it—Hillary Clinton.
We shouldn’t be too surprised at this journalistic onslaught, and you can’t blame it all on political reporters desperately looking for something to write about. In the post-Citizens United world, Presidential campaigns are big business, and they never take a break. As the Times story indicates, decisions are being made today that will determine who runs the country—or, at least, the White House—for four years after President Obama leaves. So, suck it up and keep reading!
The most immediate implications of the decision by Priorities USA, which was founded by two former Obama-campaign officials, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, are for anybody who is thinking of challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Imagine for a moment that you were one of these hopeful souls. Here’s what you’ve just been told: don’t bother! This thing is already sewn up. If you go ahead with your foolhardy pursuit, you’ll be crushed. Not only will you be confronting the candidate with the most experience and strongest poll numbers, you will also be going up against practically the entire Democratic establishment: the best campaign managers, the wiliest spinmeisters, the biggest of big-name endorsers, the most modern technology, and the deepest pockets. Forget about it. There’s always 2024, or 2020 if Hillary loses.
During the 2012 Presidential race, Priorities USA raised more than eighty-five million dollars, most of which came to them by way of wealthy donors like Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul, and Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer. Under campaign-finance laws, the nominally independent Super PACs aren’t allowed to formally coördinate their television ads and other activities with the campaigns of the candidates they endorse. In practice, though, they are on the same team—in this case, Clinton’s team.
“I think the numbers clearly show that she’s the strongest presidential candidate on the Democratic side. And Priorities is going to be there for her if she decides to run,” Jim Messina, Obama’s former campaign manager, who has agreed to serve as Priorities USA’s co-chairman ahead of the 2016 election, told Confessore. Mostyn, for his part, said that he and his wife, Amber, were excited about the prospect of supporting Clinton. “The first time was kind of a leap of faith for us—it was back when no one was giving Priorities money,” he said. “I think it’ll be easier with Hillary.”
The upshot of the story is straightforward: the Obama and Clinton forces, which fought each other bitterly in 2008, are now rallying behind Hillary. Who might be willing to stand in the way of this fearsome army? The more you analyze it, the more the answer appears to be nobody, or nobody of much note.
Let’s take some of the possible challengers in turn:
Joe Biden. According to many accounts, the Vice President harbored ambitions of succeeding his boss in the Oval Office. But as the prospect of him receiving Obama’s backing recedes, he appears to be dropping out of the picture. It is difficult to imagine that figures like Messina, loyal Obamaites all, would be publicly endorsing Clinton so early in the race if they hadn’t received at least the tacit approval of the President.
Elizabeth Warren. At an appearance in New York this week, the Massachusetts senator once again demonstrated how she can tap into the populist resentment, especially among younger voters, that spurred the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Bill de Blasio’s election victory. While it is hard to see her winning the nomination, the prospect of taking on an articulate, liberal woman with strong intellectual credentials is clearly not one that Clinton backers relish. But Warren has repeatedly said that she’s not running in 2016, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think she’s kidding.
Andrew Cuomo. It’s an open secret in Albany that the governor, who is set to be reëlected this year, has larger ambitions. In burnishing his credentials as a tax-cutting centrist, he has appeared to have at least one eye on 2016. But as long as Clinton is in the race he is snookered. The New York Democratic Party, and the New York money, will be behind the former First Lady. Going against them would be foolish.
Martin O’Malley. The personable governor of Maryland has racked up an impressive record over the past six years, and recently he’s been busy doing things that potential Presidential candidates do, such as speaking at Washington think tanks and appearing on talk shows. If Warren stays out, he could be the candidate of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. But does he want to earn the enmity of the Obama-Clinton forces by entering a race he’d likely lose? (He’s already annoyed some of them. One Wall Street Democrat told me he’d made a big mistake in being shown around New York by Eliot Spitzer.) Having just turned fifty-one, he can afford to bide his time.
Jerry Brown. There’d been some gossip that the governor of California, who has high approval ratings and who has already run for President three times, might give it another go. He has demonstrated over his career that he’s not the sort of fellow to be put off from doing something he wants. But, evidently, he’s not running. At a press conference in Riverside last week, Brown said, “No, that’s not in the cards. Unfortunately.” Come 2016, Brown will be seventy-eight years old. And he has apparently decided that’s too old.
Bernie Sanders. Last last year, the liberal-socialist senator from Vermont said that he might be open to challenging Hillary, especially if Warren doesn’t run. He told Playboy that the Clintons “live in a world surrounded by a lot of money,” and he said to Salon’s Josh Eidelson that, while he liked Hillary personally, “it remains to be seen whether she will be a forceful advocate for working families.” But Sanders only caucuses with the Democrats—he runs in Vermont as an independent—so he wouldn’t take part in the Party’s primaries.
Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive. More candidates might show up, but the challenges facing them would be formidable. Ironically, the one thing Clinton has to worry about may be the growing sense that she already has the nomination wrapped up. Chozick, in her Times Magazine piece, asks David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist in 2008, what Clinton needed to do to win in 2016. This was the start of his reply: “She stumbled in 2007 when she was encased in a presumption of inevitability.”
Illustration by Morgan Elliot.

Deputy Mayor for Social Services Now Has a Boss Who Shares Her Agenda

Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the new head of health and human services, has a long and respected record of commitment to equality and social justice, and to speaking her mind.

Stephen Hawking’s Blunder on Black Holes Shows Danger of Listening to Scientists, Says Bachmann

The Borowitz Report

January 27, 2014
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Dr. Stephen Hawking’s recent statement that the black holes he famously described do not actually exist underscores “the danger inherent in listening to scientists,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) said today.
Rep. Bachmann unleashed a blistering attack on Dr. Hawking, who earlier referred to his mistake on black holes as his “biggest blunder.”
“Actually, Dr. Hawking, our biggest blunder as a society was ever listening to people like you,” said Rep. Bachmann. “If black holes don’t exist, then other things you scientists have been trying to foist on us probably don’t either, like climate change and evolution.”
Rep. Bachmann added that all the students who were forced to learn about black holes in college should now sue Dr. Hawking for a full refund. “Fortunately for me, I did not take any science classes in college,” she said.
Bachmann’s anti-Hawking comments seemed to be gaining traction on Capitol Hill, as seen from the statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Science Committee, who said, “Going forward, members of the House Science Committee will do our best to avoid listening to scientists.”
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Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

NYC Council Speaker Mark-Viverito awards posts to pals, zilch to nonsupporters


Of the New York City Council’s 51 members, 47 got spots on Melissa Mark-Viverito's leadership team or received a committee or subcommittee chairmanship — jobs that come with stipends, known as ‘lulus,’ ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 a year in addition to their salaries of $112,500. The four who got nothing all were slow to back her for speaker.

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City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito handed out leadership spots or committee posts on Wednesday to 47 of 51 Council members.

Bryan Smith

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito handed out leadership spots or committee posts on Wednesday to 47 of 51 Council members. She claimed the choices weren’t political: 'I believe I came to a decision that will truly reflect the work that we have ahead of us and that will be in the best interests of the city of New York.'

New York’s new City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito doled out paid leadership posts Wednesday and there was something for nearly everyone — except for a handful of her political opponents.
Early backers of Mark-Viverito in the speaker’s race — including members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus and members of the Brooklyn delegation — landed many of the most coveted positions.
Forty-seven of the Council’s 51 members were assigned a spot on her leadership team or given a committee or subcommittee chairmanship — jobs that come with stipends, known as “lulus,” ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 a year in addition to their salaries of $112,500.
The four who got nothing all were slow to back Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem) for speaker when it became clear that Councilman Daniel Garodnick did not have the votes to win.
Two Queens members who broke with their county’s Democratic organization to support Mark-Viverito won choice roles. Jimmy Van Bramer was named majority leader and Julissa Ferreras scored the Finance Committee chairmanship, considered one of the two most powerful in the body.
Councilman Ritchie Torres, who bucked the Bronx Democratic boss, ended up as the only freshman on the Council leadership team and as chairman of the Public Housing Committee.
After it became clear that Councilman Dan Garodnic, pictured, didn't have the votes to win the role of speaker, four Council members were slow to back Melissa Mark-Viverito — and on Wednesday, the new speaker did not give those four paid leadership positions.

James Keivom/New York Daily News

After it became clear that Councilman Dan Garodnic, pictured, didn't have the votes to win the role of speaker, four Council members were slow to back Melissa Mark-Viverito — and on Wednesday, the new speaker did not give those four paid leadership positions.

Democrat David Greenfield, a key player in the deal to throw Brooklyn’s support behind Mark-Viverito, was named head of the Land Use Committee.
There were some concessions to the opposing camp, including a spot on the Council leadership team for Garodnick (D-Manhattan).
But Annabel Palma (D-Bronx), one of Mark-Viverito’s fiercest critics during the speaker’s race, was ousted as chairwoman of the General Welfare Committee.
“This is political retribution,” she said. “It’s business as usual.”
Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan), stripped of the Public Housing chairmanship, was also left without a post. “It’s politics,” she said. “That’s life.”
Councilman Andy King (D-Bronx) said he was “a little confused” as to why he came up empty-handed.
These New York City Council members won jobs that come stipends ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 a year.

These New York City Council members won jobs that come stipends ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 a year.

“We had outside entities determining how we were supposed to make our decision. Whether that transferred over [into committee assignments], I couldn’t say,” he said.
Mark-Viverito claimed the choices weren’t political.
“This is a process, and it’s been very deliberative,” she said. “I believe I came to a decision that will truly reflect the work that we have ahead of us and that will be in the best interests of the city of New York.”
Some black Council members also said there weren’t enough African-Americans in top posts.
“My hope was that diversity would be considered a little bit more,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn). “I am concerned about blacks in powerful positions.”
One of Mark-Viverito’s allies, Rules Committee Chairman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), said he spoke with members of Mayor de Blasio’s administration as the assignments were determined. De Blasio had lobbied Council members to support fellow liberal Mark-Viverito for speaker.

“A lot of people said, ‘What’s going on, how are things looking?’ Any number of people did that,” he said. This included members of the administration, he added. “In those situations, I didn’t say that much … I just sort of said, ‘What do you think, have you got a thought on this or that.’ ”
But Lander said those conversations never got into “specifics.”
“If the question is, ‘Did you have conversations with folks in the administration about who should get what committee,’ then the answer is, ‘No,’” he said.
In election questionnaires, a majority of Council members expressed support for ending the lulus for committee chairmen — but for now, they will be doled out.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Queens), the new Senior Centers chairman, plans to keep his $8,000 stipend, a spokesman said Wednesday.
Ferreras told the Daily News that she would accept her $15,000 lulu but donate a “generous” portion to charity. Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn), who will get $8,000 as head of the General Welfare Committee, said he would do the same.
Garodnick and Parks Committee Chairman Mark Levine both said they would refuse the money. Greenfield said he’d give all of his stipend to charity. Contracts Committee Chairwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said she hoped to pass her $8,000 on to her staff.
Mark-Viverito said whether to end lulus would be debated as part of a package of rules reforms the Council plans to take up.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snowden Calls Russian-Spy Story “Absurd” in Exclusive Interview

News Desk 

January 21, 2014

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 Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistle-blower, strongly denies allegations made by members of Congress that he was acting as a spy, perhaps for a foreign power, when he took hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents. Speaking from Moscow, where he is a fugitive from American justice, Snowden told The New Yorker, “This ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mike Rogers, a Republican congressman from Michigan who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, described Snowden as a “thief, who we believe had some help.” The show’s host, David Gregory, interjected, “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?” Rogers replied that he believed it was neither “coincidence” nor “a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the F.S.B.”
Snowden, in a rare interview that he conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, denied the allegations outright, stressing that he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.” He added, “It won’t stick…. Because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.”
If he were a Russian spy, Snowden asked, “Why Hong Kong?” And why, then, was he “stuck in the airport forever” when he reached Moscow? (He spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport.) “Spies get treated better than that.”
In the nine months since Snowden first surfaced, there has been intense speculation about his motives and methods. But “a senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone,” the New York Times reported this weekend, adding that the agency has not publicly revealed any evidence that he was working in conjunction with any foreign intelligence agency or government. The issue is key to shaping the public’s perceptions of Snowden. Representative Rogers, on “Meet the Press,” went on to allege that “some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions. How he arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go—he had a ‘go bag,’ if you will.” Gregory then asked Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and who was also a guest on the show, whether she agreed that Snowden may have had help from the Russians. She did not dismiss the notion. “He may well have,” she said. “We don’t know at this stage.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rogers made similar allegations, saying, “This wasn’t a random smash and grab, run down the road, end up in China, the bastion of Internet freedom, and then Russia, of course, the bastion of Internet freedom.”
Asked today to elaborate on his reasons for alleging that Snowden “had help,” Rogers, through a press aide, declined to comment.
An aide to Feinstein, meanwhile, stressed that she did no more than ask questions. “Senator Feinstein said, ‘We don’t know at this stage.’ In light of the comments from Chairman Rogers, it is reasonable for Senator Feinstein to say that we should find out.”
Some observers, looking at the possibility that Snowden was in league with the Russian government before taking asylum there, have pointed to a report in a Russian newspaper, Kommersant, that before leaving Hong Kong last June Snowden stayed at the Russian Consulate. Snowden’s legal adviser, Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, denied that report, however, saying, “Every news organization in the world has been trying to confirm that story. They haven’t been able to, because it’s false.” (Kommersant stands by its story.)
Snowden told me that having a go bag packed—something that Rogers described as highly suspicious—reflected his work deployed overseas for the C.I.A. He’d had “a go bag packed since 2007. It’s not an exotic practice for people who have lived undercover on government orders,” Snowden said.
“It’s not the smears that mystify me,” Snowden told me. “It’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.” Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: “ ‘We don’t know if he had help from aliens.’ ‘You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.’ ”
Snowden went on, “It’s just amazing that these massive media institutions don’t have any sort of editorial position on this. I mean, these are pretty serious allegations, you know?” He continued, “The media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account.”
Asked about this, George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week,” defended the coverage. Stephanopoulos pointed out that when the congressman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, alleged that Snowden was “cultivated by a foreign power” and “helped by others,” Stephanopoulos pressed him for details, twice. “I did two follow-ups,” Stephanopoulos said, “and got as much as the congressman was going to give up.”
From Moscow, Snowden explained that “Russia was never intended” to be his place of asylum, but he “was stopped en route.” He said, “I was only transiting through Russia. I was ticketed for onward travel via Havana—a planeload of reporters documented the seat I was supposed to be in—but the State Department decided they wanted me in Moscow, and cancelled my passport.”
As for why he remains there, he said, “When we were talking about possibilities for asylum in Latin America, the United States forced down the Bolivian President’s plane.” If he could travel without U.S. interference, “I would of course do so.”
Snowden was adamant that he wants to help, not hurt, the United States. “Due to extraordinary planning involved, in nine months no one has credibly shown any harm to national security” from the revelations, he said, “nor any ill intent.” Moreover, he pointed out that “the President himself admitted both that changes are necessary and that he is certain the debate my actions started will make us stronger.”
“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy,” Obama said on Friday. “Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.” And Obama told David Remnick, in an interview for The New Yorker, that the leaks “put people at risk” and that, in his view, the benefit of the debate Snowden generated “was not worth the damage done, because there was another way of doing it.”
In the end, Snowden said that he “knew what he was getting into” when he became a whistle-blower. “At least the American public has a seat at the table now,” he said. “It may sound trite,” but if “I end up disgraced in a ditch somewhere, but it helps the country, it will still be worth it.”
Photograph by Barton Gellman/Getty.

A Vindicated Snowden Says He’d Like to Come Home

Rational Irrationality

January 23, 2014

The news headline from Thursday’s live chat with Edward Snowden, on the Free Snowden Web site, was that he wants to come home—but he wants the laws changed first, presumably so he doesn’t have to go to prison. Asked by Jake Tapper, of CNN, about the conditions under which he would return to the United States, Snowden said,
Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it’s unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower-protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself.
The hundred-year old law under which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.
The really big news of the day, though, was that Snowden has been vindicated. Whether by coincidence or not, the live chat occurred shortly after it emerged that a federally chartered privacy watchdog had declared illegal one of the big N.S.A. domestic-spying programs that Snowden revealed—the Prism program, in which the agency routinely sweeps up hundreds of millions of telephone records. In a long report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress beefed up in 2007, said that the bulk collection of telephone metadata violated the statute that the Obama Administration has cited to justify it, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and called for the program to be halted.
The online conversation, in which Snowden typed answers to questions posed by reporters and others, covered a number of areas. Throughout it, the former contractor, who is living in Russia, referred to the new report to back up his points. Asked about President Obama’s speech last week, in which he claimed that the N.S.A. hadn’t abused the mass-surveillance programs, Snowden pointed to the watchdog’s finding that there was no evidence that collecting phone records indiscriminately had identified or prevented a single terrorist plot. Snowden said,
When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even a single plot, it’s time to end “bulk collection,” which is a euphemism for mass surveillance. There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate.
And he also quoted directly from the new report:
Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations.
It’s hard to argue with that, although defenders of the N.S.A. would doubtless try. Under President Obama’s proposals, the bulk data would continue to be collected and held by a third party that is yet to be determined, with the N.S.A. having to get approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to access it.
Snowden was rightly dismissive of such reforms. He called the FISA court “a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests.” He went on, “Collecting phone and email records for every American is a waste of money, time and human resources that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect are a serious threat.”
One questioner asked Snowden to identify the worst harm that the domestic-spying programs had caused. In an answer that is worth quoting at length, Snowden cited two:
The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.
The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.
And, in answer to another question, he added,
I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.
Reading Snowden’s well-formulated answers, it was easy to imagine why the Obama Administration, and the national-security apparatus, might prefer for him to stay in Russia, rather than have him come home and make his case on a more regular basis. Asked about whistle-blower-protection laws, which President Obama has said Snowden should have used rather than going public, Snowden said that if he had gone to Congress and revealed what he knew about classified programs he could have been charged with a felony. And he referred to the harsh treatment of Thomas Drake, the former N.S.A. whistle-blower whom my colleague Jane Mayer wrote about in 2011. Snowden said,
Despite this, and despite the fact that I could not legally go to the official channels that direct NSA employees have available to them, I still made tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors, and anyone with the proper clearance who would listen. The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom to go to through what Drake did.
At the end of the live chat, Snowden once again defended his former colleagues. A questioner called @mperkel asked, “They say it’s a balance of privacy and safety. I think spying makes us less safe. do you agree?” To which Snowden replied,
Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.
The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court…They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.
Which, once again, was hard to argue with.
Photograph by Barton Gellman/Getty.

Friday, January 24, 2014

New York City Sanitation Chief Finds That When It Snows, It Pours

After Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that plowing lagged on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he directed Commissioner John J. Doherty to review the management of the storm there.

An Unassuming Liberal Makes a Rapid Ascent to Power Broker

Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who is the City Council’s new deputy leader for policy, is being called a “shadow speaker.”

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Putin Warns Gays Against Flamboyant Displays at Olympics

The Borowitz Report

January 23, 2014

SOCHI (The Borowitz Report)—Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that gay spectators should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympics but warned them against “any flamboyant displays that draw unnecessary attention to themselves.”
“The Olympics have always been, and should always be, about the athletes,” President Putin said. “Any attempt by homosexuals to flaunt their bodies in a way that is distracting, provocative, or arousing will be frowned upon.”
“Specifically, gay spectators should remain fully clothed at all times, and resist the temptation to unveil their chiseled biceps or shredded abdominals,” he said.
“Furthermore,” he added, “under no circumstances should gays oil, grease, or otherwise lubricate their torsos in an effort to highlight their glistening, ripped pectorals.”
He closed his remarks with one final warning for gay spectators in Sochi: “Remember, this is the Olympics. It is strictly forbidden for you to expose your thighs, buttocks, or especially your nipples, erect from the frigid Russian air.”
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Photograph by Alexsey Druginyn/AFP/Getty.

Kim Jong-un: Bieber Just a Few Arrests from Being My Friend

The Borowitz Report

January 23, 2014
PYONGYANG (The Borowitz Report) — North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un announced on state television today that he believes the pop star Justin Bieber is “just a few arrests away” from visiting North Korea as his friend.
“Justin, if you are watching right now, this is my message to you,” Kim said. “I stand ready and willing to be your B.F.F.”
The mercurial Kim said that he would seek Mr. Bieber’s aid in boosting North Korea’s slumping pop-music industry, which has failed to generate any hits comparable to South Korea’s “Gangnam Style.”
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Credit: Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department.
City Room

New York Today: Deep Freeze

Bundle up!
Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
Bundle up!
What you need to know for Thursday: the cold snap continues, more commuting headaches and a look back at the Bernhard Goetz case.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Montefiore interested in providing medical marijuana

Hospital is one of three in New York City that is exploring legally providing weed to sick patients

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Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News

Bronx medical giant Montefiore is among three New York City hospitals to express interest in a plan rolled out by Gov. Cuomo Jan. 8 to provide medical marijuana to sick patients.

The Bronx is up in smoke.
Bronx medical giant Montefiore is among three New York City hospitals to express interest in a plan rolled out by Gov. Cuomo Jan. 8 to provide medical marijuana to sick patients.
Under Cuomo’s plan, up to 20 hospitals could be given the greenlight by state authorities to treat and research patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses.
Possession of medical marijuana is still illegal in New York City.
“We want to further explore New York's Controlled Substance Therapeutic Program for medical marijuana and look forward to further discussions with the State Health Department,” said Dr. Steven Safyer, president of Montefiore Health System. “We have an obligation to our patients to consider all safe and effective therapeutic options to cure illness or relieve symptoms.”
Only 20 hospitals across the empire state will be allowed to dispense the medical marijuana if the plan comes to fruition. Gov. Cuomo is able to unilaterally implement the plan through the Antonio G. Oliviere Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Program, a law that enables marijuana and other controlled substances to be used in the treatment of patients with conditions approved by the state health commissioner.
Bronx medical giant Montefiore is among three New York City hospitals to express interest in a plan rolled out by Gov. Cuomo Jan. 8 to provide medical marijuana to sick patients.

Bronx medical giant Montefiore is among three New York City hospitals to express interest in a plan rolled out by Gov. Cuomo Jan. 8 to provide medical marijuana to sick patients.

It remains unclear how the state will obtain the marijuana, but a source familiar with the plan said confiscated weed could potentially be administered in smokable vapor or mashed up in food form.
The project has given advocates high hopes.
“I, as well as the advocates, were pleased that he is moving in the right direction on this important issue,” said Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), who sponsored a more expansive medical marijuana bill in the state senate.
But proponents of marijuana legalization believe this is the latest example of Albany’s dysfunction over the issue.
“This is just one more variation on politicians trying to do the right thing but simply not having the political will to just say ‘There’s this plant called marijuana, it has varying degrees of potency and we’re going to let doctors recommend and prescribe it,” said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Another major obstacle is determining how the hospital programs will jibe with federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule-I narcotic.
“Hospitals can’t distribute medical marijuana — period,” said Savino. “They’re federally licensed facilities. The government will happily come in and shut them down.”
Other local hospitals that have expressed interest in the program include Mount Sinai in Manhattan and North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York City and Long Island.