Category Archives: Governance

Headline of the day II: Fox heads to the henhouse


The latest deplorable appouintment from President Pussygrabber, via the New York Times:

Trump Selects Ally of Fossil Fuel Industry to Lead the E.P.A.

  • Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been a key architect of the legal battle against President Obama’s climate change policies.
  • His actions fit with President-elect Donald J. Trump’s comments during the campaign.

Iceland government formation talks drag on


Will the Pirate Party be able to form a government coalition in the nation with the world’s oldest parliament?

Tasked with forming a new government following last month’s election ousted the old neoliberal coalition, Pirate Party founder Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously] has been trying to unite five parties with disparate goals to form a new ruling coalition, but so far without concrete results.

From the Iceland Monitor:

As informal talks between Iceland’s newly elected representatives drag on, with no formal solution in sight, the possibility of sending the people back to the polls is being mooted in some quarters.

“It wouldn’t be a catastrophe,” said the Finance Minister in Iceland’s current caretaker government Bjarni Benediktsson on Icelandic national television yesterday.

>snip<

Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who has been formally mandated by the President of Iceland to form a government – the third party representative to attempt to do so – has told Icelandic news website mbl.is (link in Icelandic) that talks to end the deadlock are progressing “slowly but surely”.

Jónsdóttir is working towards a five-party coalition – unprecedented in Icelandic political history – bringing together all Icelandic parliamentary parties except the two currently in government.

This line-up was attempted last month by leader of the Left-Green Movement Katrín Jakobsdóttir – the second party leader to be given the presidential mandate, after Benediktsson himself – but formal talks ultimately broke down.

Jónsdóttir is, however, confident that things are now going better this time round and insists that progress is being made. Informal talks are expected to continue for the next few days, with a decision on whether it is worth launching formal coalition negotiations between the five parties to be taken towards the end of this week.

Duterte: Donald Trump makes me ‘feel like a saint’


The brutal Philippine president, who has drawn international condemnation for ordering police and vigilantes to kill drug dealers on site, racking up a body count in the thousands, says he’s just talked to The Donald, and the call left him dancing on air.

It’s easy to understand why they get along. After all, it was Duterte who called Barack Obama the “son of a whore.”

From the Associated Press:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he felt “like a saint” after his phone conversation last week with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who he said praised him for “doing great” in his deadly campaign against illegal drugs.

Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that Trump told him not to worry about Americans criticizing him, saying “you are doing good, go ahead.” He said Trump invited him for coffee if he visits the U.S. to hear how he deals with the media, his critics and the public.

Duterte quoted Trump as saying, “We should fix our bad relations.”

The friendly exchange was a departure from Duterte’s hostility toward President Barack Obama. He lashed out at Obama for raising concerns over the drug crackdown, which has left more than 4,000 suspects dead.

Troika agrees to modest debt relief for Greece


Greece, the European nation hardest hit by the Wall Street-sparked Great Recession, has been granted some modest debt relief, but conditions set the Troika [the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission] mandate that the regime of austerity continue.

That means that cutbacks in pay, pensions, healthcare, and other social programs will continue, along with privatization of national resources and higher taxes on necessary consumer goods.

But the conditions set also require that the government maintain a high surplus, a measure ensuring that austerity pains will continue.

From Ekathimerini:

Monday’s decision at a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels to approve short-term debt relief measures for Greece was a “decisive step towards stabilizing the Greek economy and restoring trust,” the government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Speaking to the press, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that the government will continue negotiations with its eurozone partners for longer-term measures to reduce Greece’s huge debt pile, but stressed that Athens will “under no circumstances” agree to more belt-tightening once the bailout program is complete.

Tzanakopoulos was referring to the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded more structural measures in order to join the Greek program.

“The IMF cannot pressure the Greek government for new measures and not its European partners for lower primary surplus targets,” Tzanakopoulos said, referring to a demand that Greece maintain a primary fiscal surplus of 3.5 percent after 2018, a factor considered crucial by the IMF.

His comments echoed those of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who warned international creditors, including the IMF, on Monday not to pressure Athens to implement measures it had not previously agreed to.

But the IMF isn’t as happy with the deal as Tzanakopoulos indicated and has called for a halt to further austerity measures, as well as a lower GDP surplus, reports To Vima:

The International Monetary Fund welcomed the short-term debt relief measures that were announced at the Eurogroup, however it noted that they are not sufficient.

An IMF officer reportedly told Bloomberg that the Fund insists that the primary surplus targets after 2018 must not exceed 1.5% of the GDP, since anything higher is unrealistic.

As the officer commented, the targets set must not require austerity and argued that the fewer years the high targets are maintained, the lesser the impact will be on the country’s growth, since the 3.5% GDP target will require additional reforms in the pension and tax system.

The officer also called Athens and Brussels to present measures to be taken, should the primary surplus target of 3.5% be maintained after 2018.

The Troika’s official statement is posted here.

Chomsky warns: Trump may incinerate us all


Either through nuclear war or global warming, the election of President Littlefingers present the gravest threat of the 21st Century, warns America’s foremost intellectual and dissident.

From teleSUR English:

Prominent U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky warned Monday about the possibility of a nuclear war and the further risks linked to global warming as a result of a Donald Trump presidency, during a speech for the 20th anniversary of Democracy Now!.

Commenting on the concrete implications of the Republican candidate’s win, Chomsky said that the Iran nuclear deal could be reversed.

“Other countries who are parties to the deal might well continue,” he said. “That means ignoring U.S. sanctions. That will extend U.S. isolation, even from Europe.”

“Brexit may assist with (U.S. isolation) because Britain was the voice of the United States in NATO, the harshest voice,” he added.

“The threats and dangers are very real,” he said. Namely, the positions that Trump has taken in regards to climate change and the Iran deal pose a threat to the future of the country and the world.”

“The threats that we now face are the most severe that have ever arisen in human history,” he added. “They are literal threats to survival: nuclear war, environmental catastrophe.”

“They became more urgent on Nov. 8, for the reasons you know and that I mentioned. They have to be faced directly, and soon if the human experiment is not to prove to be a disastrous failure,” he warned.

Why millions believe Trump’s idiotic tweeter-twaddle


As anyone who pays attentions to the utterances, tweeted and otherwise, of our President-elect, Donald Trump is, at best, the source of profoundly absurd declarations of nonsense, gleaned from sources that regularly write about a cabal of lizard people ruling the world, rampant voter fraud, a secret fluoride mind control program, and other blatant twaddle.

While the rational among us would at first glance reject such absurdities, they gain traction, eventually forming part of the core belief systems of millions.

The question, then, is why?

A perceptive analysis by Lisa Fazio Assistant Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, writing in the open source [Creative Commons] academic journal The Conversation, offers some key insights:

In the weeks since the U.S. election, concerns have been raised about the prominence and popularity of false news stories spread on platforms such as Facebook. A BuzzFeed analysis found that the top 20 false election stories generated more shares, likes, reactions and comments than the top 20 election stories from major news organizations in the months immediately preceding the election. For example, the fake article “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” was engaged with 960,000 times in the three months prior to the election.

Facebook has discounted the analysis, saying that these top stories are only a tiny fraction of the content people are exposed to on the site. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea.” However, psychological science suggests that exposure to false news would have an impact on people’s opinions and beliefs. It may not have changed the outcome of the election, but false news stories almost definitely affected people’s opinions of the candidates.

Psychological research, including my own, shows that repeated exposure to false information can change people’s beliefs that is it true. This phenomenon is called the “illusory truth effect.”

This effect happens to us all – including people who know the truth. Our research suggests that even people who knew Pope Francis made no presidential endorsement would be susceptible to believing a “Pope endorses Trump” headline when they had seen it multiple times.

Repetition leads to belief

People think that statements they have heard twice are more true than those they have encountered only once. That is, simply repeating false information makes it seem more true.

In a typical study, participants read a series of true statements (“French horn players get cash bonuses to stay in the U.S. Army”) and false ones (“Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office”) and rate how interesting they find each sentence. Then, they are presented with a number of statements and asked to rate how true each one is. This second round includes both the statements from the first round and entirely new statements, both true and false. The outcome: Participants reliably rate the repeated statements as being more true than the new statements.

In a recent study, I and other researchers found that this effect is not limited to obscure or unknown statements, like those about French horn players and Zachary Taylor. Repetition can also bolster belief in statements that contradict participants’ prior knowledge.

For example, even among people who can identify the skirt that Scottish men wear as a kilt, the statement “A sari is the skirt that Scottish men wear” is rated as more true when it is read twice versus only once. On a six-point scale, the participants’ truth ratings increased by half a point when the known falsehoods were repeated. The statements were still rated as false, but participants were much less certain, rating the statements as “possibly false” rather than closer to “probably false.”

This means that having relevant prior knowledge does not protect people from the illusory truth effect. Repeated information feels more true, even if it goes against what you already know.

Even debunking could make things worse

Facebook is looking at ways to combat fake news on the site, but some of the proposed solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. According to a Facebook post by Zuckerberg, the site is considering labeling stories that have been flagged as false with a warning message. While this is a commonsense suggestion, and may help to reduce the sharing of false stories, psychological research suggests that it will do little to prevent people from believing that the articles are true.

People tend to remember false information, but forget that it was labeled as false. A 2011 study gave participants statements from sources described as either “reliable” or “unreliable.” Two weeks later, the participants were asked to rate the truth of several statements – the reliable and unreliable statements from before, and new statements as well. They tended to rate the repeated statements as more true, even if they were originally labeled as unreliable.

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Veteran spook probers call for a Snowden deal


For those of us old enough to remember it, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the Church Committee for its chair, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church, marked a watershed moment in American politics.

Charged with investigating abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies, the committee rocked the nation and the globe with its reports of epic wrongdoing by the CIA, NSA, and the FBI.

The committee investigated on a massive and illegal mail-opening operation and secret drug experiments on American citizens by the CIA, the FBI’s illegal efforts to thwart the civil rights movement [including efforts to smear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and incite murderous violence among black radicals], and the illegal use of the NSA to monitor prominent activists opposed to the Vietnam war.

The committee’s efforts lead to the first major reforms to the nation’s massive spy apparatus in the form of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, banning mass surveillance of American citizens.

Directing the investigative efforts was a notable staff, headed by Frederick A.O. Scwharz Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer and the great-grandson of the founder of New York City’s most famous toy store.

And now Schwarz, who now serves as chief counsel for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, and other members of the Church Committee staff have issued a call for the Obama Administration to negotiate a plea bargain with America’s most famous whistleblower, who, they say, has done us all a great service.

From the Brennan Center for Justice:

As former professional staff members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities [the “Church Committee”], we are writing to urge that the White House and the Justice Department negotiate a settlement of the charges against Edward Snowden that both sides can accept.

There is no question that Edward Snowden’s disclosures led to public awareness which stimulated reform. Whether or not these clear benefits to the country merit a pardon, they surely do counsel for leniency.

In the American political system, bipartisan government reforms are generally regarded as the most legitimate and durable. Recently, however, our government has all but stopped making bipartisan reforms. There is one big exception: the surveillance reforms inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

It was Snowden who supplied journalists with evidence that our government had, for many years, been collecting information about the domestic phone calls of millions of Americans. As a result, a bipartisan coalition in Congress formed to amend the Patriot Act to prohibit the practice. In the Senate, Mike Lee, a conservative Republican from Utah, joined with Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat from Vermont, to sponsor the reform. In the House, the move toward reform started with two Michigan Congressmen, Justin Amash, a junior Tea Party Republican from Grand Rapids, and John Conyers, a veteran liberal Democrat from Detroit. Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a primary author of the Patriot Act and its extensions, also backed the reforms saying he and his colleagues had not intended to permit the NSA’s widespread scooping up of data about Americans’ communications.

It was also Snowden’s material that showed the extent to which the National Security Agency intercepts and filters international electronic communications from undersea fiber optic cables, and taps internal links connecting data centers for Internet companies like Yahoo! and Google. All this was in pursuit of former NSA Director Keith Alexander’s directive to “collect it all.” Untold millions of Americans’ communications are swept up in these programs, where they are available for perusal by the FBI and CIA through what has become known as the “backdoor” search loophole. Republican Reps. Ted Poe and Tom Massie have joined with Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren in sponsoring legislation to ban this practice.

Snowden’s documents also revealed the broad scope of NSA spying on foreigners including eavesdropping on close allies in addition to potential adversaries like Russia and China. While some have argued that leaking such “legal” surveillance activities disqualifies Snowden from any mercy, President Barack Obama has acknowledged that stronger controls were necessary. He implemented the first-ever reforms to afford privacy protection for foreigners from surveillance unless it is necessary to protect our national security.

The NSA, CIA, and Defense Department maintain that harm resulted from the disclosures, particularly with respect to our efforts overseas, where they say relationships with intelligence partners have been damaged and our adversaries may know more about our capabilities. No one is asking that these claims be ignored, only that they be checked, and then weighed against the benefits.

America clearly did benefit from Snowden’s disclosures. Former Attorney-General Eric Holder said that Snowden “performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.” President Obama has said that the public debate regarding surveillance and accountability that Snowden generated “will make us stronger.” The President also issued an executive order recognizing that foreigners have privacy interests –– an acknowledgement no previous President had ever made –– and also asked the intelligence community to find ways to provide foreigners with some protections previously provided only to Americans.

Without Snowden, it would have been decades, if ever, until Americans learned what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to. We know first hand that lack of disclosure can cause just as many, if not more, harms to the nation than disclosure. When intelligence agencies operate in the dark, they often have gone too far in trampling on the legitimate rights of law-abiding Americans and damaging our reputation internationally. We saw this repeated time and time again when serving as staff members for the U.S. Senate Select Committee, known as the Church Committee, that in 1975-76 conducted the most extensive bipartisan investigation of a government’s secret activities ever, in this country or elsewhere.

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