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“Back Here On Planet Earth”: The Clinton’s Still Aren’t Corrupt

So now I’m supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton turned the Department of State into a giant shakedown operation? According to Beltway conventional wisdom, it seems that I am compelled to believe exactly that. Because you know those Clintons.

And so we have a lot of credulous hand-waving about this new book. Conservatives sharpen their knives, liberals sweat bullets that it’s all over. But very few people stop to think: Clinton has been in our faces for 20-plus years. Where is any evidence of real corruption? I don’t mean stuff you may not have liked or that kinda looked funny. I mean actual, Rhode-Island-style, steal-a-hot-stove corruption.

Don’t say Whitewater. She endured millions of dollars’ worth of investigations by a prosecutor (Ken Starr) who quite obviously wanted to nail her to the wall, and he came up with nothing. I still remember, by the way, the hopped-up political atmosphere after Bill Safire wrote a column calling her a “congenital liar” and predicted that she was going to be indicted any day now. It was not unlike the mood this week, as we anticipate The New York Times and The Washington Post’s reducing themselves into effectively collaborating with Fox News to trumpet Peter Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash. But Safire was wrong, as he in fact so often was about so many things, and Starr never got her.

Cattle futures, billing records—it’s all the same. Thousands of people, people who hate her and want to see her thrown in jail, have been over and over and over these things. I know the fact that she walks freely among us suggests to many people that she and Bill are so brilliantly devious that they always knew exactly how to get away with it. But just maybe Occam’s Razor applies here, and she’s never done anything illegal.

And now she is supposed to have muscled through a trade deal with Colombia to thank a donor to her husband’s foundation. Right. Look at the chronology.

The man whose business interests the Colombia deal apparently advanced was named Frank Giustra, a Bill friend who has, as we shall see, come up before in the media in this connection. Giustra gave the Clinton Foundation $131 million—$31 million in 2006, [NOTE: this initially said 2005 but has been corrected] and another $100 million pledged that same year that he made good on over the next three years, up through 2008.

Now, 2008, you will recall, was when Hillary Clinton was running for president. It would stand to reason, would it not, that if Clinton was so intent on advancing Giustra’s Colombian business interests, she would have been for the trade deal at the exact moment Giustra finished paying her husband $131 million? But she was against it as a candidate, and implacably so! “I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” she said on the stump in Pennsylvania that April.

That’s not exactly the position of someone shilling for a donor, but I suppose if you’re a committed enough Clintonologist, you can turn it all into a conspiracy—she was just opposing it then to throw the rest of us off the scent, but she’d support it later when it mattered. In fact, she was so intent on hiding her “real” position that she even parted ways with campaign manager Mark Penn because he was consulting for the Colombian government in behalf of the deal.

So then she became Secretary of State. And, indeed, she did start supporting it—but after that became the administration’s position. Obama had also opposed the deal, which the Bush administration had begun negotiating with Colombia back in 2006, as a candidate. But the Obama administration used the Colombia deal as a test case for whether it could get a trade partner to agree to tougher labor protections (there was, and still is, violence against trade unionists in Colombia, although the number of killings has gone down since the pact) as part of gaining access to U.S. markets. The labor provisions got in there. People debate today how much good they’ve done, but they’re in there, and so Obama and Clinton changed their position and backed the deal.

Now, for Clinton to have known in 2008 that all this would play out to Frank Giustra’s benefit, she would have had to have known that Obama was going to beat John McCain and, rather more improbably than that, that Obama was going to appoint her to be his Secretary of State. But those wily Clintons know things like that, see.

I will grant you, she and Obama did not change their positions for reasons that Frank Capra would make a movie about. They changed them, I would imagine, because business and agricultural interests wanted the deal and had more power than the labor and human rights interests that opposed it. You can decry that, too, but it’s just politics.

Think Progress got a copy of Schweizer’s book, and on their description it actually sounds like it’s going to disappoint the heavy breathers. Aviva Shen writes: “Schweizer explains he cannot prove the allegations, leaving that up to investigative journalists and possibly law enforcement.” “Possibly” law enforcement. Nice touch.

While I’m at it with the irony quotes, I might as well drape some around that adjective “investigative” too. The Times, it seems, has decided to debase itself by following the breadcrumbs dropped by this former adviser to Sarah Palin because Schweizer devotes a chapter to Giustra and Kazakhstan, which the Times reported on back in 2008, and the Times plans to follow up on that.

I remember reading that Times story at the time and going, “Wow, that does look bad.” But then I also remember reading this Forbes (yes, Forbes!) debunking of the Times story, which was headlined “Clinton Commits No Foul in Kazakhstan Uranium Deal.” By the time I finished reading that piece (and please, click through and read it so that you are forearmed for the coming Times hit job), I was marveling to myself: Golly, that Times piece looked so awful at the time. But it turns out they just left out some facts, obscured some others, and without being technically inaccurate, managed to convey or imply that something skuzzy happened where it in fact hadn’t. How can a great newspaper do such a thing?

We’re about to find out again.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 22, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Journalistic Malpractice”: An Overlooked Dream, Now Remembered

The city of Washington had been on edge for days. Fearing a riot, mayhem or lord knows what, many left town to avoid the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers predicted a crowd of more than 100,000 protesting Negroes, as we called black people then. Just the idea of such a horde seemed to scare the white residents of what was still a southern town.

There was no rush-hour traffic on Aug. 28, 1963; almost no one went to work. Downtown, the sidewalks were empty and businesses were closed. But at Union Station, the joint was jumping. So was the Greyhound bus station on New York Avenue. Scores of thousands — mostly black but about a third white — streamed out of trains and buses and began to march along the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial.

I was a Post summer intern — a kid reporter on his first big story — and one of 60 staffers the paper deployed that day. This was a tiny fraction of the number of National Guardsmen and police on the streets but a veritable army for what was then still a provincial daily paper. Ben Gilbert, the imperious city editor, had spent weeks planning the coverage. With help from colleagues, he was about to make one of the biggest goofs of his long career.

I missed the first part of the march. I was sent to watch celebrities arrive at National Airport, where I attended a news conference by Marlon Brando, who wanted to be sure his presence was not misunderstood. Yes, Negroes were treated badly in the United States, Brando said, but “don’t forget the Indian problem.” As soon as the march was over, he promised, he would again be fighting to resolve “the Indian problem.”

I was then dispatched to the corner of Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Post reporters were stationed on every block of Constitution and throughout the Mall to cover any untoward incident. A sea of good-natured, well-dressed humanity paraded before me. The marchers carried signs but shouted no slogans. There was no hint of “trouble,” only the good news of a polite, orderly crowd.

But I was afraid of Gilbert, so I stayed at my post for several hours. Eventually I wandered toward the Lincoln Memorial, where the speeches had been delivered. It was a beautiful August afternoon, and everyone was having a fine time.

I was too late to hear the speeches but soon heard about them, particularly the address by John Lewis, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is the same John Lewis we know today as an avuncular Georgia representative, a gentle though forceful agitator for the rights of African Americans and the poor. In 1963, Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department considered him a dangerous radical. So he got a disproportionate share of attention from reporters and officials.

The Post’s courtly civil rights reporter, Robert E. Lee Baker — he used Robert E. Baker as a less-provocative byline — reported: “Lewis had intended to scorch the Kennedy Administration and Congress and ‘cheap politicians’ in a highly emotional speech.” But, Baker wrote, “he toned it down.” No one got scorched.

The Post, however, got embarrassed. The main event that day was what we now call the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.

We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained “orderly.”

In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”

I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.

 

By: Robert G. Kaiser, Associate Editor, The Washington Post, August 25, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Non-Factual Facts”: Washington Post Hedges Claim That Google, Facebook, Gave The Government Direct Access To Their Servers

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported a shocking story about how the FBI and National Security Agency had partnered with Google, Facebook, and many other tech companies to spy on the tech companies’ hundreds of millions of users.

The government agencies, the Post said, were “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”

This surveillance program, the Post reported, had been “knowingly” facilitated by the tech companies, which had allowed the government to tap directly into their central servers.

The Post story described a “career intelligence officer” as being so horrified by the power and privacy intrusion of this surveillance system that the officer was helping to leak the news to expose it.

“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer reportedly told the Post.

Not surprisingly, the Post’s story created an instant explosion of outrage. The ire was directed at both the government and the technology companies.

The story also led to immediate, explicit denials from the technology companies. Google, Facebook, and Yahoo all said that the government did not have “direct access” to any servers. Apple said it had never even heard of the program it was supposedly partnering with.

So The Post’s claim that the companies had voluntarily given the government direct, open, un-monitored access to their servers quickly seemed suspect.

And now, 24 hours later, after more denials and questions, the Post has made at least two important changes to its spying story.

First, the Post has eliminated the assertion that the technology companies “knowingly” participated in the government spying program.

Second, and more importantly, the Post has hedged its assertion that the companies have granted the government direct access to their servers.

The latter change is subtle, but important. In the first version of its story, the Post stated as a fact that the government had been given direct access to the companies’ servers.

Now, the Post attributes the claim to a government presentation–a document that has been subjected to significant scrutiny and skepticism over the past day and that, in this respect, at least, seems inaccurate.

In other words, the Post appears to have essentially retracted the most startling and important part of its story: That the country’s largest technology companies have voluntarily given the government direct access to their central servers so the government can spy on the tech companies’ users in real time.

Specifically, here’s how the Washington Post story has changed…

Here’s the original first paragraph:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

Here’s the updated paragraph (our emphasis):

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

That change is important. The direct-access claim changes from a fact asserted by the Washington Post to a claim made in a document the Washington Post has seen–a document that might be wrong.

The idea that Google, Facebook, Apple, et al, had voluntarily given the government direct unfettered access to their servers always seemed far-fetched.

This behavior would justifiably trigger the wrath of the companies’ hundreds of millions of users worldwide and exacerbate already existing concerns that these companies routinely trample all over their users’ privacy.

Furthermore, the government’s assertions that its spying programs are directed primarily at foreigners, not US citizens, would not be viewed as comforting to Google, Facebook, et al.

Why not?

Because the vast majority of the users of these companies’ services are foreigners.

If the international users of Facebook, Google, et al, were to feel that the companies were opening their data centers in this way, the international users might revolt. So it’s hard to imagine that these companies would just voluntarily open their servers to the U.S. government (or, for that matter, any other government).

The Washington Post also broke the news about the existence of the vast government program Internet spying called PRISM, which other outlets have since confirmed. And the story illustrated how extensively the government uses Internet communications in its intelligence efforts and how important these communications are to national security.

But, a day after the Post story appeared, it seems likely that the following claims are wrong or at least need major qualification:

  • that the NSA and FBI are “tapping directly into the central servers” of Facebook, Google, et al, and,
  • that the government can “quite literally watch your ideas form as you type.”

 

By: Henry Blodget, Business Insider, June 7, 2013

June 9, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ed Klein’s “Bio-Porn”: Author Of New Book Smearing Obama Devoid Of Skills And Credibility

The New York Post yesterday published the first excerpts from an upcoming biography on President Obama by Edward Klein, “The Amateur.”

In the Post’s excerpt, Klein alleges that former President Clinton called President Obama an “amateur” and desperately tried to convince Hillary to resign as Secretary of State and challenge Obama in the Democratic primaries this year. (The Clintons swiftly and forcefully denied the claims.) The article was prominently featured on the Drudge Report.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the New York Post, the Drudge Report or other popular right-wing outlets, Klein is a discredited author with a history of presenting falsehoods as fact. Here’s what you need to know about Edward Klein:

1. Klein’s last book, which was self-published, suggests Obama was born on foreign soil and is a practicing Mulism. In his 2010 work The Obama Identity: A Novel (Or Is It?), Klein co-authored along with a former Republican congressman is a compendium of Obama conspiracy theories. He had to self-publish the book.

2. Klein promoted a shameful conspiracy theory that Bill Clinton raped Hillary. In his 2005 book, Klein promoted an anonymous, hateful allegation supposedly made by two people who “claim” to have spoken with Bill Clinton about the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Clintons’ daughter Chelsea.

3. Klein repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton’s sexual orientation. He has similarly disparaged Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and Katie Couric in previous works, leading the Washington Post to comment that Klein “has made a second career of leaving knuckle prints on famous women.”

4. Klein has a history of publishing demonstrably false allegations about Obama as fact. In a 2010 entry in The Huffington Post, Klein detailed President Obama’s “humiliation” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, claiming that sources told him of Obama leaving during a meeting with Netenyahu to have dinner with Michelle and their two daughters. One phone call would have revealed that to be impossible, since Michelle, Sasha and Malia were all in New York City at the time.

5. Klein’s book is being published by Regnery, a far-right imprint specializing in the promotion of conservative talking points. He was rejected by every respectable publishing house. In an interview, Klein claimed his difficulty locating a publisher was because Barack Obama was an “untouchable” subject. Yet several other books on the same subject, like Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas, set off a bidding war between the major New York publishers.

6. Even conservative critics view Klein as disreputable. Kathleen Parker, writing for the Tribune’s network of newspapers, described Klein’s 2005 book as “prurient tabloiding,” while New York Post columnist John Podhoretz said it was “one of the most sordid volumes I’ve ever waded through.” Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal review said it was “poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced and full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work.”

The nation’s top book reviews have all panned Klein and his work. The Boston Globe called him “an author devoid of credibility,” the New York Times described him as “smarmy and sleazy,” the Los Angeles Times called his work “bio-porn,” and the Tucson Citizen referred to it as “the literary equivalent of a backed up-septic tank.” (It got a grade of “F”).

Nevertheless, The Washington Post and Fox are reporting Klein’s latest allegations as if they were news.

By: Adam Peck, Think Progress, May 12, 2012

May 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crash Lies”: Washington Post Discards All Journalistic Standards In Attack On Social Security

News outlets generally like to claim a separation between their editorial pages and their news pages. The Washington Post has long ignored this distinction in pursuing its agenda for cutting Social Security, however it took a big step further in tearing down this barrier with a lead front page story that would have been excluded from most opinion pages because of all the inaccuracies it contained.

The basic premise of the story, as expressed in the headline (“the debt fallout: how Social Security went ‘cash negative’ earlier than expected”) and the first paragraph (“Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went ‘cash negative.'”) is that Social Security faces some sort of crisis because it is paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. [The “runaway national debt” is also a Washington Post invention. The deficits have soared in recent years because of the economic downturn following the collapse of the housing bubble. No responsible newspaper would discuss this as problem of the budget as opposed to a problem with a horribly underemployed economy.]

This “treacherous milestone” is entirely the Post’s invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as there is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.

As the article notes, the trust fund currently holds $2.6 trillion in government bonds, so it is nowhere close to being unable to pay benefits. The whole point of building up the trust fund was to help cover costs at a future date when taxes would not be sufficient to cover full benefits. Rather than posing any sort of crisis, this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.

The article makes great efforts to confuse readers about the status of the trust fund. It tells readers:

“The $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.”

This is the same situation the government faces when Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson or any other holder of government bonds decides to cash in their bonds when they become due. In such cases it “must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors.” The Post’s reporters and editors should understand this fact.

The article then goes on to incorrectly accuse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of misrepresenting the finances of Social Security:

“In an MSNBC interview, he [Senator Reid] added: ‘Social Security does not add a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has and, for the next 30 years, it won’t do that.’

“Such statements have not been true since at least 2009, when the cost of monthly checks regularly began to exceed payroll tax collections. A spokesman said Reid stands by his comments and his view that Social Security is entirely self-financed.”

Of course Senator Reid is exactly right. The system is self-financed under the law. In 2009 it began drawing on the interest on the government bonds it held. That is exactly what the law dictates, when Social Security needs more money than it collects in taxes, it is supposed to draw on the bonds that were purchased with Social Security taxes in the past. This means it is self-financing.

Again, this is like Peter Peterson selling his government bonds to finance one of his political ventures. Just like Social Security, he is drawing on his own money. The Post may have missed it, but there was a big debate last summer over raising the government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. This $14.3 trillion figure included the $2.6 trillion borrowed from Social Security. If Social Security sells some of these bonds and this money is used to pay benefits, it does not raise the debt subject to the ceiling by a penny. This is very simple and very clear.

The article then turns to Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles who describes a plan he put forward along with former Senator Alan Simpson, his co-chair on a deficit commission appointed by President Obama [the article wrongly describes this plan as being the commission’s plan. That is not true, the commission did not approve any plan.]

“It would have hit upper-income workers while raising benefits for the most needy, those with average lifetime earnings of less than $11,000 a year. ‘By making these relatively small changes, you make it solvent and you make it be there for people who depend on it,’” Bowles said. ‘I thought that’s what we as Democrats were supposed to be for.'”

Actually the plan put forward by Bowles and Simpson would have implied large cuts for most low-income workers who would not have met the work requirements needed for the higher benefit. The cut would have taken the form of a 0.3 percentage point reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment. This cut would be cumulative, after 15 years of retirement a beneficiary would be seeing a benefit that is roughly 4.5 percent lower as a result of the Bowles-Simpson plan. The plan also phased in an increase in the age for receiving full benefits to 69, which is also a benefit cut for lower income retirees.

For lower income retirees Social Security is the overwhelming majority of their income. This means that the benefit cut advocated by Bowles and Simpson would imply the loss of a much larger share of their income than the end of the Bush tax cuts would for the wealthy. However, the Post has never described the ending of these tax cuts as a “modest” or “small” tax increase.

It is also worth noting that “upper-income workers” who would face benefit cuts under the Bowles-Simpson plan are people with average earnings of more than $40,000 a year. This is not ordinarily viewed as the cutoff for upper income. In reference to the ending of the Bush tax cuts, the Post once ran a front page story questioning whether people earning $500,000 a year were wealthy. Clearly they apply a different standard to Social Security beneficiaries.

To push its line of fat and happy seniors the Post misrepresented research by Gene Steuerle on returns from Social Security taxes. At one point it told readers:

“That return is diminishing, in part because people today have paid more into the system than previous generations. But a two-earner, middle-income couple retiring this year can expect to get $913,000 in Social Security and Medicare benefits over their lifetimes, in return for $717,000 in payroll taxes.”

The trick in this picture is that the return refers to Social Security and Medicare, not just Social Security which is the topic of the article. The Steuerle paper actually has the Social Security returns shown separately in the exact same chart. Steuerle calculated that the two-earner couple referred to in the article would pay a bit less than $600,000 in taxes into the system and collect around $560,000 in benefits.

[This couple will get more back in Medicare benefits than they paid in taxes, but this is primarily because our health care costs twice as much per person as in any other wealthy country. This is a good argument for reforming the U.S. health care system but has nothing to do with the topic of the article.]

This article also repeatedly refers to the debate over cutting benefits as being an “ideological battle.” There is no evidence presented in this piece that there is any ideological issue at stake. On the one hand are hundreds of millions of workers who want to see the benefits that they paid for. On the other hand are many wealthy people, exemplified by people like Peter Peterson and Erskine Bowles who would rather use Social Security money to keep their own taxes low or to serve other purposes.

This is a battle over who gets the money. The references to ideology just confuse the situation.

By: Dean Baker, Center For Economic and Policy Research, October 29, 2011

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Federal Budget | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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