Feds Demand Names of Newspaper Critics

The Justice Department has demanded that a New Orleans newspaper hand over the names of a dozen readers who sought anonymity as they made comments about law enforcement.

By the request, authorities continue to attack historic legal protections for the public. In this case, authorities seek to overturn the case law and Justice Department procedures developed over many years to protect freedom of the press under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Tommy TuckerWWL AM/FM radio host Tommy Tucker in New Orleans, shown at right, asked for my comment  on his show.

Prosecutors are trying to reduce privacy and freedom of the press, I responded in the interview here. As legal authority, prosecutors cited a 1978 federal law creating federal inspector generals. However, the law has been in force for more than three decades without creating a right for Washington officials to demand that news organizations violate the public's expectations of privacy.

Also, I noted that the government already monitors and stores on a secret basis virtually all American phone calls, email transmissions, etc., according to experts we have quoted on this site. Therefore, the government could obtain the communications it wanted -- if this were an extraordinary emergency, which this is not.

As an alternative, prosecutors could obtain the information they seek by simpler, more traditional means. Among the options are questioning colleagues of known suspects, or obtaining a search warrant. The host, at right, agreed after noting that he has otherwise been aggressive in seeking a thorough investigation of irregularities in the scandal at issue.

Justice Department headquarters in Washington is investigating "sock puppet" comments made by New Orleans federal prosecutors online in the reader comment section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune online news edition. The department fired one prosecutor last spring after revelations he had made more than 500 anonymous comments, many of them on federal court cases involving him or colleagues. New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, his top staffer, Jan Mann, and her husband resigned in November following an investigative target's allegations that she had published anonymous comments on the newspaper site until last spring.

The current probe provides scant evidence that the dozen readers prosecutors seek to probe are federal law enforcement officials subject to sanction for making comments. An eloquent video highlight of the nation's history of free expression and association is contained in a 1954

by Edward R. Murrow of CBS editorializing against the rabid congressional investigations of Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI). It is useful remember, however, that McCarthy's bogus claims enjoyed great popular success and caused great suffering before those of stature moved against him. Murrow was the face and voice of that criticism but it was institutional leaders of the Senate who took the decisive actions. 

In other news, excerpts are provided below on revelations about how authorities crushed the Occupy movement and temporarily resolved the so-called fiscal cliff battle. 

Atlanta Progressive News, Occupy Atlanta Claims City Deceived Court, Spied on Protesters, Matthew Charles Cardinale, Dec. 21, 2012. At a press conference at City Hall, activists with Occupy Atlanta alleged that the City of Atlanta deceived them and the Atlanta Municipal Court with respect to 800 pages of documents that the activists say they subpoenaed months ago. In addition, recent court proceedings have revealed a significant spying operation by the City of Atlanta in connection with other agencies including the federal Department of Homeland Security, on Occupy Atlanta. All week long, over 80 Occupy Atlanta activists have been on trial, including 53 who were arrested during a massive arrest at Woodruff Park that occurred October 25 and 26, 2011. Most of those were charged with being in the park between 11pm and 6am, a petty misdemeanor. Other activists faced charges stemming from additional arrests that occurred on November 1, 2011, involving a protest that spilled out into the street; and from a later protest at a Chase Bank branch.


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Jim Letten

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Feds seeking information on 11 additional NOLA.com commenters, Gordon Russell, Dec. 31, 2012. Federal authorities who were ordered to conduct a deeper investigation into an online commenting scandal in former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office have issued a subpoena to The Times-Picayune's parent company, asking it to provide, among other items, information about 11 commenters on NOLA.com. The company's lawyers have objected to providing the information thus far, instead asking the feds to demonstrate they have a basis for seeking the information. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone's online commenting and that of First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, ultimately led both prosecutors and their boss, Jim Letten, at left, to resign. The Justice Department is seeking the information pursuant to a federal law called the Inspector General Act. The NOLA Media Group -- which includes the newspaper and the website -- is also questioning whether the department has no authority to request the information under that law. The federal subpoena seeks a listing of all comments made by the 11 commenters since Jan. 1, 2007, and "any IP addresses associated with" the users who made the comments. It also asks for similar information about the comments left under pseudonyms that former federal prosecutors Jan Mann and Sal Perricone have since acknowledged using.

For background, see also: Judge May Grant New Trial for Police Suspects In Katrina Killings, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 26, 2012. A New Orleans federal judge will consider a new trial for five of the city's police officers convicted in the killings of city residents in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In an order issued Nov. 26, U.S. District Kurt Englehardt said he would await a Justice Department internal investigation before ruling on a motion by defendants seeking a new trial because of misconduct by high-ranking members of the local prosecution office.

New York Times, Ex-Officer Is First in C.I.A. to Face Prison for a Leak, Scott Shane, Jan. 5, 2013. Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied. Only an hour into what began as a relaxed chat with the two agents — the younger one who traded Pittsburgh Steelers talk with him and the senior investigator with the droopy eye — did he begin to realize just who was the target of their investigation. Finally, the older agent leaned in close and said, by Mr. Kiriakou’s recollection, “In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that right now we’re executing a search warrant at your house and seizing your electronic devices.”  On Jan. 25, Mr. Kiriakou is scheduled to be sentenced to 30 months in prison as part of a plea deal in which he admitted violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by e-mailing the name of a covert C.I.A. officer to a freelance reporter, who did not publish it. The law was passed in 1982, aimed at radical publications that deliberately sought to out undercover agents, exposing their secret work and endangering their lives. In more than six decades of fraught interaction between the agency and the news media, John Kiriakou is the first current or former C.I.A. officer to be convicted of disclosing classified information to a reporter.

FireDogLake, The Only CIA Officer Scheduled to Go to Jail Over Torture Never Tortured Anybody, Kevin Gosztola, Jan. 6, 2013. Reporter for the New York Times, Scott Shane, wrote a feature story on the case of former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who is the first from the agency to face jail time for a classified leak. He is to be sentenced to 30 months of jail on January 25. Kiriakou pled guilty to the charge of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) by revealing the name of an undercover officer on October 23 in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He faced the potential of going to jail for more than a decade and did not want to be separated from his wife and five children for that long. The chain of events that led to Kiriakou becoming a target of prosecution is outlined in Shane’s story.  In 2009, officials discovered “defense lawyers for detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had obtained names and photographs of CIA interrogators and other counterterrorism officers, including some who were still under cover.”  The CIA and Justice Department were afraid. They opened an investigation into the photographs and found John Sifton, a human rights advocate, was helping the Project put together a “dossier of photographs and names of CIA officers.” Sifton was talking to a journalist over email named Matthew Cole, who was a “freelancer” working on a book on a “CIA rendition case in Italy” (that never was published). In August 2008, Cole “asked Mr. Kiriakou if he knew the name of a covert officer who had a supervisory role in the rendition program, which involved capturing terrorism suspects and delivering them to prisons in other countries.” He did not know the name at first but later emailed Cole with it saying, “It came to me last night,” the documents show.  Kiriakou did not think the agent was still undercover. He thought he had retired.

FireDogLake, US Whistleblowers on Being Targeted by the Secret Security State, Kevin Gosztola, Dec. 29, 2012. The Chaos Communication Congress, which organizers describe as “an annual four-day conference on technology, society and utopia,” began on December 27. Three United States whistleblowers gave presentations, which should be considered required viewing. Jesselyn Radack, who blew the whistle on ethics violations in the case of John Walker Lindh when she was an ethics adviser under Attorney General John Ashcroft, describes what led to her resignation and whistleblowing. Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on government misconduct and illegalities at the National Security Agency, spoke after Radack and describes what it was like to see the rise of the Surveillance State after the September 11th attacks. He compared the rise to the Stasi secret police in East Germany, which operated under the motto, “To know everything.”  In the Cold War, everything was suspect. “Today in the post Cold War era,” Drake states, “I do find myself asking myself and others, how can an open and vibrant democracy exist next to a secret security state?” Drake, shown at right in a photo by Stephen DePaulo, faced the prospect early that he could be indicted and sentenced to prison for life if he did not cooperate. He was charged under the Espionage Act, as part of an escalating government trend to turn whistleblowers and truth tellers into criminals. The final speaker was William Binney, a former NSA technical director who was raided and subject to investigation like Thomas Drake. In June 2001, Binney retired because he could no longer tolerate the corruption between employees and private contractors, the incestuous relationship where security was being traded for money. Binney learned about a program called Stellar Wind, where the NSA was spying on Americans. He knew it was pointless to go to heads of the NSA because he knew the people running it. Binney says, “AT&T was providing 320 million records a day of US citizens talking to other US citizens.” And, “You can quickly build a communities on virtually everybody in the country.” There were no limits. This extended to all the people of the world.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Buzzfeed/Truthout, The FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism, Bill Berkowitz, Jan. 7, 2013. As Trevor Aaronson tells it in his new book, The Terror Factory: Inside The FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism (IG Publishing, 2013), a large percentage of the so-called terrorists nabbed by the FBI since 9/11 more aptly dubbed “sad sacks.” After extensive research Aaronson and his research assistant Lauren Ellis compiled a “database of 508 defendants whom the U.S. government considered terrorists. Of the 508, 243 had been targeted through an FBI informant, 158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting, and 49 had encountered an agent provocateur.

Huffington Post, Chuck Hagel Defense: The Combustible Politics Of Obama's Clearest Break From Bush, Sam Stein and Joshua Hersh, Jan. 7, 2013. President Barack Obama's nomination Monday of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as secretary of defense reignites an uncomfortable, and potentially combustible, debate over the foreign policy of the George W. Bush presidency. The anticipated nomination had been under fire for weeks, as Hagel critics sought to use his positions on Israel and gay rights to fight the appointment. But under the surface, the controversy centers on Hagel’s outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq, and Republican fears that the appointment would represent a clean break for Obama from the policies of the Bush years.

Forbes, Black and Whitey: How the Feds Disable Criminal Defense, Harvey A. Silverglate, Jan. 3, 2013. Two remarkable legal proceedings are currently wending their way through the federal criminal courts. The cases involve very different parties: Conrad Black, one of the most consequential public intellectuals and businessmen of our era, and James “Whitey” Bulger, left, a Boston-based alleged racketeer and serial murderer. But both cases highlight some of the same profound problems with the way federal prosecutorial business is done these days.

In both cases, as in countless others, the feds have used certain techniques that virtually assure convictions of both the innocent and the guilty, the wealthy and the poor, the violent drug dealer and the white collar defendant, indifferent to the niceties of “due process of law,” particularly the right to effective assistance of legal counsel. In order to prevent a defendant from retaining a defense team of his choice, federal prosecutors will first freeze his assets, even though a jury has yet to find them to have been illegally obtained. They then bring prosecutions of almost unimaginable complexity, assuring that the financially hobbled defendant’s diminished legal team (or, as is often the case, his court-appointed lawyer) will be too overwhelmed to mount an adequate defense.

Institute for Political Economy/OpEd News, Does Truth Have A Future In America? Paul Craig Roberts, Jan. 7, 2013. Summary: Truth-tellers are inconvenient. Major General Antonio Taguba was given the assignment of conducting the official inquiry into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. Instead of covering up the incidents as he was expected to do for his third star, he produced a professional and truthful report. It was Taguba's career that was terminated, not the careers of those responsible for the illegal torture of prisoners.

As a writer I have found that one problem in communicating with readers is that many have political, social, economic, or ideological agendas. They read in order to confirm their beliefs and agendas. Neither the right-wing nor the left-wing can escape their ideological boxes and are creatures of their biases. They want their prejudices vindicated and their beliefs supported. A writer who tells them something that they do not want to hear receives abuse. These readers cannot benefit from facts and new information and change their minds. Truth is what validates their prejudices, biases, or their programing. Objective truth is not the matrix in which they live. If a writer makes a case so clear that readers simply cannot avoid it, the reader will intentionally misread the article or book and attack the writer for saying everything that he does not say. The chorus will join in the effort to shut down the unwelcome information before it reaches others. If a majority of Americans sought objective truth instead of confirmation of their beliefs, truth could prevail over special interests. Reality would inform social, political, and economic life, and American prospects would be good. But when a majority are hostile to facts and truths that do not support their biases and serve their interests, there is a disconnect from reality, which is the situation in America today.

There is another constraint on revealing truth. The human capital of people with inside knowledge is destroyed if they speak out. Position, contacts, invitations, income, and social life are all forfeited when an insider becomes a dissenter or a truth-teller. Only the extremely naive can believe that governments cannot keep conspiracies a secret, "because someone would talk."  No one talks, because talking harms the personal interests and human capital of the insider, and seldom does any good.

Washington Post, Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns, Craig Whitlock, Jan. 2, 2013. The three European men with Somali roots were arrested on a murky pretext in August as they passed through the small African country of Djibouti. But the reason soon became clear when they were visited in their jail cells by a succession of American interrogators. U.S. agents accused the men — two of them Swedes, the other a longtime resident of Britain — of supporting al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that Washington considers a terrorist group. Two months after their arrest, the prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York, then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial. The secret arrests and detentions came to light Dec. 21 when the suspects made a brief appearance in a Brooklyn courtroom. The men are the latest example of how the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Renditions are taking on renewed significance because the administration and Congress have not reached agreement on a consistent legal pathway for apprehending terrorism suspects overseas and bringing them to justice.

Washington Post, A CIA veteran on what ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ gets wrong about the bin Laden manhunt, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., Jan. 3, 2013.  “Zero Dark Thirty,” which will open for Washington audiences Friday, inaccurately links torture with intelligence success and mischaracterizes how America’s enemies have been treated in the fight against terrorism. Many others object to the film, however, because they think that the depiction of torture by the CIA is accurate but that the movie is wrong to imply that our interrogation techniques worked. They are wrong on both counts. I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture.

Guardian/OpEd News, A letter to Kathryn Bigelow on "Zero Dark Thirty's" apology for torture, Naomi Wolf, Jan. 4, 2013.  By peddling the lie that CIA detentions led to Bin Laden's killing, you have become a Leni Riefenstahl-like propagandist of torture.

Dear Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker" was a beautiful, brave film; many young women in film were inspired as they watched you become the first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing. But with "Zero Dark Thirty," you have attained a different kind of distinction. Your film "Zero Dark Thirty" is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in "the global war on terror," "Zero Dark Thirty" is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantanamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race -- something that has historical precedent.

Reuters/Huffington Post, New York Times Loses Lawsuit To Uncover Drone Strikes Information, Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Saba, Jan. 2, 2013.  A federal judge on Wednesday rejected The New York Times' bid to force the U.S. government to disclose more information about its targeted killing of people it believes have ties to terrorism, including American citizens. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan said the Obama administration did not violate the law by refusing the Times' request for the legal justifications for targeted killings, a strategy the Times said was first contemplated by the Bush administration soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. McMahon appeared reluctant to rule as she did, noting in her decision that disclosure could help the public understand the "vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in which we have been engaged for well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure, and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty."  Nonetheless, she said the government was not obligated to turn over materials the Times had sought under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even though it had such materials in its possession.

Wayne Madsen Report, Pollard damage report reveals nuclear bombshell, Wayne Madsen, Jan. 7, 2013 (Subscription required). Israeli and American Jews often brush aside the damage that convicted Naval Intelligence spy Jonathan Pollard did to U.S. national security. However, the recent disclosure of formerly redacted pages in the Pollard Damage Assessment prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence's Foreign Denial and Deception Analysis Committee and issued on October 30, 1987 has revealed that Pollard began working as a U.S. naval intelligence watch officer the same month that Israel and South Africa, possibly with the financial support of Taiwan, detonated a nuclear device in the South Atlantic near Prince Edward Islands. The unredacted damage assessment report also provides details of Pollard's espionage work for South Africa before or at the same time he was spying for Israel. Pollard's joint espionage for Israel and South Africa point to him likely playing a role on providing faulty intelligence to upper intelligence. The report contains several lengthy and unredacted descriptions of Pollard's espionage for the Jewish state and the timing of the most recent CIA declassification and disclosure, December 16, 2012, may have been agreed upon to point out Israel's duplicity with regard to the United States a few weeks prior to the political firestorm from mainly Jewish neo-conservatives upset about the nomination of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska as the next Secretary of Defense. The neo-con meme is that Hagel is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Washington Post, In the House, a deck stacked for Republicans, Dana Milbank, Jan. 4, 2012.  As a new Congress convenes, it has become an unquestioned truth among Republicans that their party has as much of a mandate as President Obama because voters returned them to power in the House. he final results from the November election were completed Friday, and they show that Democratic candidates for the House outpolled Republicans nationwide by nearly 1.4 million votes and more than a full percentage point — a greater margin than the preliminary figures showed in November. And that’s just the beginning of it: A new analysis finds that even if Democratic congressional candidates won the popular vote by seven percentage points nationwide, they still would not have gained control of the House. The analysis, by Ian Millhiser at the liberal Center for American Progress using data compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, finds that even if Democrats were to win the popular vote by a whopping nine percentage points — a political advantage that can’t possibly be maintained year after year — they would have a tenuous eight-seat majority. In a very real sense, the Republican House majority is impervious to the will of the electorate. Thanks in part to deft redistricting based on the 2010 Census, House Republicans may be protected from the vicissitudes of the voters for the next decade.

Richard Charnin

Richard Charnin, left, "2012 Election Fraud: A True Vote Model Proof," Richard Charnin's Blog, Jan. 2, 2013.  This analysis will show that Obama overcame massive election fraud in 2012. A landslide was denied, just as it was in 2008. In 2012, Obama won by 4.97 million recorded votes, a 51.03-47.19% share (51.95% two-party). In the True Vote Model Obama won all plausible scenarios.There are some who are convinced that Election Fraud is systemic, but was thwarted in 2012 by Anonymous or government oversight. It is possible that the threat of an investigation in Ohio may have prevented late vote-rigging. But vote switching algorithms were in effect throughout the day in most states. Exit pollsters always assume that both prior and current elections are fair and the exit poll samples biased. So they adjust exit poll weights and vote shares to match the sacrosanct recorded vote. They never consider the possibility that their samples were good and the elections were fraudulent.

Wall Street Journal, GOP Prosecutors Flood into Politics, Ashby Jones, December 27, 2012. Prosecutors turned Pols: Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys are increasingly finding their ways into politics. Of the 145 U.S. attorneys that President George W. Bush installed, 21 have moved on to elected office or political appointments. Their ranks include two governors, two lieutenant governors, four state attorneys general, four House members and six current or former federal and local officials.

Atlanta Progressive News, Occupy Atlanta Claims City Deceived Court, Spied on Protesters, Matthew Charles Cardinale, Dec. 21, 2012. At a press conference at City Hall, activists with Occupy Atlanta alleged that the City of Atlanta deceived them and the Atlanta Municipal Court with respect to 800 pages of documents that the activists say they subpoenaed months ago. In addition, recent court proceedings have revealed a significant spying operation by the City of Atlanta in connection with other agencies including the federal Department of Homeland Security, on Occupy Atlanta. All week long, over 80 Occupy Atlanta activists have been on trial, including 53 who were arrested during a massive arrest at Woodruff Park that occurred October 25 and 26, 2011. Most of those were charged with being in the park between 11pm and 6am, a petty misdemeanor. Other activists faced charges stemming from additional arrests that occurred on November 1, 2011, involving a protest that spilled out into the street; and from a later protest at a Chase Bank branch.

Associated Press/Huffington Post, John Brennan, Counterterrorism Aide To President Obama, To Be Nominated As CIA Director, Julie Pace, Jan. 7, 2013. President Barack Obama on Monday will nominate Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, two potentially controversial picks for his second-term national security team. Hagel, even before being nominated, has faced tough criticism from congressional Republicans who say the former GOP senator is anti-Israel and soft on Iran. And Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to harsh interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration.The White House said Obama will announce both nominations Monday afternoon. Along with secretary of state nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Hagel and Brennan would play key roles implementing and shaping Obama's national security priorities in a second term. All three men must be confirmed by the Senate. In nominating Hagel, Obama signaled he is willing to take on a tough confirmation fight. Once Hagel emerged as Obama's likely nominee, GOP lawmakers began sharply questioning his commitment to Israel and his willingness to take a hard line with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Legal Schnauzer, Rape In Steubenville Attracts Anonymous' Attention To Injustice And Corruption On Main Street, USA, roger Shuler, Monday, January 7, 2013.  The hacktivist group Anonymous is known mostly for efforts to expose wrongdoing involving governments, multinational corporations, and large financial institutions. That might be about to change with the alleged gang rape and kidnapping of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. The alleged attack, on a girl who reportedly was unconscious, happened last August. But it did not become national news until The New York Times reported a story titled "Rape Case Unfolds On Web And Splits City" on December 16.  Witness accounts via social media caused the story to spread. Anonymous helped break it wide open last week when it gathered information suggesting an official cover up and placed it on a WikiLeaks-style Web site. Two members of the town's football team have been arrested and charged with rape. But the Anonymous reports hint at misconduct that goes way beyond two student-athletes--and it might include efforts by law enforcement and town officials to cover up crimes.

Fiscal Cliff Commentary

New York, Battles of the Budget, Paul Krugman, Jan. 3, 2013. The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.  For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war.  The fight over the fiscal cliff was just one battle in that war. It ended, arguably, in a tactical victory for Democrats. The question is whether it was a Pyrrhic victory that set the stage for a larger defeat.

Paul Krugman, That Bad Ceiling Feeling, New York Times, Jan. 2, 2013. More thoughts about the fiscal deal. One good thing is that the deficit scolds are furious: they had their hearts set on exploiting this crisis to push through benefit cuts, and it didn’t happen — part of the larger good news that Obama didn’t gut Social Security or Medicare this time around. And as I pointed out yesterday, the numbers are disappointing, but the disappointment isn’t that big a deal.  So, why am I feeling so despondent, and why do so many other progressives, like Noam Scheiber, feel the same? Because of the way Obama negotiated. He gave every indication of being more or less desperate to cut a deal before the year ended — even though going over the fiscal cliff was not at all a drop-dead moment, since we could have gone weeks or months without much real economic damage. Now, given his evident antsi-ness to cut a deal in this case, how credible is his promise to hang tough over the debt ceiling, which is a much brighter red line? He may say that he absolutely, positively won’t negotiate over the ceiling — but nothing in his past behavior makes that believable. I have to say that I now expect Obama to cave on the ceiling; and so, of course, do the Republicans, which means that the crisis is going to happen. The only thing that might save this situation is the fact that Obama has to be aware just how much is now riding on his willingness to finally stand up for his side; if he doesn’t, nobody will ever trust him again, and he will go down in history as the wimp who threw it all away.

DSWright, “'Fiscal Cliff' Deal Packed With Corporate Welfare," FireDogLake, January 3, 2013. Throughout the months of November and December, a steady stream of corporate CEOs flowed in and out of the White House to discuss the impending fiscal cliff. Many of them, such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, would then publicly come out and talk about how modest increases of tax rates on the wealthy were reasonable in order to deal with the deficit problem. What wasn’t mentioned is what these leaders wanted, which is what’s known as “tax extenders”, or roughly $205B of tax breaks for corporations…

Matt Stoller, "Naked Capitalism, Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR," Jan. 3, 2013. Throughout the months of November and December, a steady stream of corporate CEOs flowed in and out of the White House to discuss the impending fiscal cliff. Many of them, such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, would then publicly come out and talk about how modest increases of tax rates on the wealthy were reasonable in order to deal with the deficit problem. What wasn’t mentioned is what these leaders wanted, which is what’s known as “tax extenders”, or roughly $205B of tax breaks for corporations. With such a banal name, and boring and difficult to read line items in the bill, few political operatives have bothered to pay attention to this part of the bill. But it is critical to understanding what is going on.

Information Clearing House, America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Michael Hudson, Dec. 29, 2012.  When World War I broke out in August 1914, economists on both sides forecast that hostilities could not last more than about six months. But the Great War dragged on for four destructive years. Holding the bottom 99% in debt, the top 1% are now in the process of subsidizing a deceptive economic theory to persuade voters to pursue policies that benefit the financial sector at the expense of labor, industry, and democratic government as we know it. Wall Street lobbyists blame unemployment and the loss of industrial competitiveness on government spending and budget deficits – especially on social programs – and labor’s demand to share in the economy’s rising productivity. The myth (perhaps we should call it junk economics) is that (1) governments should not run deficits (at least, not by printing their own money), because (2) public money creation and high taxes (at lest on the wealthy) cause prices to rise. The cure for economic malaise (which they themselves have caused), is said to be less public spending, along with more tax cuts for the wealthy, who euphemize themselves as “job creators.” Demanding budget surpluses, bank lobbyists promise that banks can provide the economy with enough purchasing power to grow. Then, when this ends in crisis, they insist that austerity can squeeze out enough income to enable private-sector debts to be paid.

Institute for Political Economy/OpEd News, Washington's Hegemonic Ambitions Are Not in Sync With Its Faltering Economy, Paul Craig Roberts, Jan. 7, 2013. In November the largest chunk of new jobs came from retail and wholesale trade. Businesses gearing up for Christmas sales added 65,700 jobs or 45% of November's 146,000 jobs gain. With December sales a disappointment, these jobs are likely to reverse when the January payroll jobs report comes out in February. Family Dollar Stores CEO Howard Levine told analysts that his company's customers were unable to afford toys this holiday season and focused instead on basic needs such as food. Levine said that his customers "clearly don't have as much for discretionary purchases as they once did." For December's new jobs we return to the old standbys: health care and social assistance and waitresses and bartenders. These four classifications accounted for 93,000 of December's new jobs, 60% of the 155,000 jobs.

FireDoglake, Ruth Marcus Is Outraged by Overly Generous Social Security Checks, Dean Baker, December 26, 2012.  Well, who can blame her? After all, we have tens of millions of seniors living high on Social Security checks averaging a bit over $1,200 a month at a time when folks like the CEOs in the Campaign to Fix the Debt are supposed to subsist on paychecks that typically come to $10 million to $20 million a year. Anyhow, her main trick for cutting benefits is to adopt the chained consumer price index as the basis for the annual cost of living adjustment. This would have the effect of reducing benefits by 0.3 percentage points for each year of retirement. This means a beneficiary would see a 3 percent cut in benefits after 10 years, a 6 percent cut after 20 years and a 9 percent cut after 30 years. This is real money. Since Social Security is more than half the income for almost 70 percent of retirees and more than 90 percent of the income for 40 percent of retirees, the hit to the affected population would be considerably larger than the hit to the top 2 percent from ending the Bush era tax cuts.

Ryan Grim, Harry Reid Threw Obama Fiscal Cliff Proposal Into Burning Fireplace, Huffington post, Jan. 2, 2013.Shortly after 7:00 Saturday evening, the offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were still trading offers. McConnell left the Senate for the night, and Reid's staff said they'd get back to him by mid-morning. The White House sent Reid a list of suggested concessions as his staff debated what to send back to McConnell. Reid looked over the concessions the administration wanted to offer, crumpled up the paper and tossed it into his fireplace. The gesture was first reported by Politico and confirmed to HuffPost by sources with knowledge of it, who noted that Reid frequently keeps his fire going and is fond of feeding a variety of proposals to it. Reid's staff then called McConnell's office with a simple message: Our last offer stands. There will be no further concessions. McConnell took to the Senate floor, complaining that he had no "dance partner" in Reid, and called Vice President Joe Biden, a man he assumed would be more willing to give. McConnell was right. Perhaps the most important concession he wrangled from the administration, which Reid had been unwilling to make, was a two-month extension of the sequester, automatic cuts to defense spending and domestic programs that were supposed to be triggered Jan. 1. Reid wanted much more, worried that the two-month period will simply set up another colossal showdown that will also rope in the debt ceiling and funding for the government. "The deal itself is OK, but sets up Democrats for [a] worse fight and strengthens Republicans' hand for what they really want: cuts," said a Democratic source close to Reid. "Biden gave away the store on timeline. Two months and we're back at this and in worse shape."

New York Times, Lines of Resistance on Fiscal Deal, Jonathan Weisman, January 1, 2013. Just a few years ago, the tax deal pushed through Congress on Tuesday would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy, a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.

Legal Schnauzer, Mississippi Attorney Paul Minor Gets A Second Crack At An Appeal Before The U.S. Supreme Court, Roger Shuler, Jan. 3, 2012. Paul Minor, the Mississippi lawyer who is in federal prison from a Bush-era prosecution that closely mirrors that of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, has filed a second petition to have his appeal heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. (See a copy of the petition at the end of this post.)  The nation's highest court declined to hear Minor's initial petition for certiorari review in 2010. But that petition came before the court's ruling in a case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, redefining the federal law on honest-services fraud.