Monday Morning

Brent said the Morning Report would be spotty this week so I’ll start with an open thread and a few interesting (to me anyway) links.

This probably seems like a mistake in hindsight.

Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

In addition to the piece above Snowden isn’t helping himself or us if this  is true.

Former NSA employee, and famed PRISM whistleblower, Edward Snowden is now leaking top secret documents that appear to have nothing to do with the NSA eavesdropping on Americans, and everything to do with hurting the United States’ national security position vis-a-vis Russia before a key Obama-Putin summit.

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In light of the above information it should be an interesting G8 talk Obama is scheduled to give defending our phone and internet surveillance systems.  I have to wonder what those folks will be thinking.

President Barack Obama will defend U.S. phone and internet surveillance efforts during G8 talks next week, explaining to other leaders the importance of the tools in fighting terrorism, and safeguards in place to prevent abuse of the data

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It’s nice to see a company that pays it’s employees well actually do well.  I’ve also heard that Costco employees stick around for years and years and they even have a college education program for people who want to advance within the company.

The big box giant’s profit jumped 19 percent to $459 million last quarter, thanks in part to the company’s efforts to offer discounts to lure more members, according to Bloomberg. The company was able to offer those discounts and boost its profits while paying its workers a decent wage, a claim many of Costco’s competitors can’t make.

A typical Costco worker made $45,000 in 2011, according to Fortune. That’s compared to Sam’s Club workers’ average salary of $17,486 per year, according to salary information site Glassdoor.com.

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I don’t know if any of you saw this interview with the young Air Force guy with PTSD caused by being a drone operator.  I remember thinking that the drones seemed like a good idea for modern warfare, and maybe they are.  I think they save American lives but I’m not sure we’ve gotten their use right yet.

Doesn’t it seem as though we’re not adapting very well to all the new technology and we haven’t actually thought everything through sufficiently?

This is a report on the interview from Richard Engel, but there’s also video at the link.

Bryant said that most of the time he was an operator, he and his team and his commanding officers made a concerted effort to avoid civilian casualties.

But he began to wonder who the enemy targets on the ground were, and whether they really posed a threat. He’s still not certain whether the three men in Afghanistan were really Taliban insurgents or just men with guns in a country where many people carry guns. The men were five miles from American forces arguing with each other when the first missile hit them.

“They (didn’t) seem to be in a hurry,” he recalled. “They (were) just doing their thing. … They were probably carrying rifles, but I wasn’t convinced that they were bad guys.“ But as a 21-year-old airman, said Bryant, he didn’t think he had the standing to ask questions.

He also remembers being convinced that he had seen a child scurry onto his screen during one mission just before a missile struck, despite assurances from others that the figure he’d seen was really a dog.

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I’ve seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it’s not pretty. It’s not something that I want to have — this diploma.”

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And last but not least from the great state of CA, we passed a budget Friday that made our stingy (hahaha) Governor almost as happy as the other Democrats.  As you probably know Republicans have essentially been side lined.  It ‘s the opposite of states like WI and others where Republicans control all levels.  This piece mentions health care quite a bit and emphasizes how much Obama and others are hoping for a successful implementation here.

Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the success of the federal healthcare law hinges largely on the outcome in California.

“California is pace-setting, and everyone in health reform is watching very closely,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine its success until it succeeds in California.”

Many of the healthcare changes are riding on this year’s budget and a series of related bills among those lawmakers are expected to take up Saturday.

“California really couldn’t move full speed ahead” until the budget passed, said Chris Perrone, a director at the California HealthCare Foundation. “It clears the path to a lot of work that needs to happen.”

That work includes computer upgrades to process new patients and outreach efforts to ensure that more people enroll in health plans.

Healthcare was one of the final sticking points in budget negotiations this year. Brown insisted on allowing the state to scale back its coverage if federal money is reduced.

36 Responses

  1. I liked this piece on Robert Fogel and his economic opinion of health care.

    So ensuring that a whole population is healthy is not only a prerequisite for a civilized nation, it makes good economic sense. That goes a long way to explain why countries in Western Europe since World War Two have put as a top priority a universal healthcare system, some single payer, like Britain, and some based on mandated private insurance, like France.

    The schemes have proved so hugely popular that any politician who suggests returning to a “devil take the hindmost” health policy is doomed to oblivion. That is why Margaret Thatcher, who received an annual audience with Hayek, toyed with privatizing healthcare but ended up announcing, “The National Health Service is safe in our hands.”

    How do Fogel’s findings feed into today’s debate about Obamacare, which will not be fully operational until January 1, 2014? It will, eventually, be good for growth, though it may take awhile to filter through. As Fogel explained, there are “extremely long lags” before the benefits of investments such as good diet, housing and health translate into higher growth.

    And it will take some considerable time before the 48.6 million Americans who will now be treated by primary care physicians rather than expensive emergency rooms come to benefit in their pocketbooks from the better jobs they will gain from their improved health.

    http://blogs.reuters.com/nicholas-wapshott/2013/06/13/robert-fogel-and-the-economics-of-good-health/

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  2. From your piece:

    “The issue was resolved Monday afternoon, when the governor met in his office with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). The three agreed that the state would stop the Medi-Cal expansion if federal funding dropped below 70% of the cost in the next four years.”

    It will be interesting to see what the match ends up being once the Federal government addresses it’s own budget issues.

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  3. I think the Medicaid (Medi-Cal) end of the expansion in coverage is what has everyone worried.

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  4. Well yes. Everyone knows that the 90% match is unsustainable, leaving aside the issue of not covering people who were previously eligible but who didn’t’ sign up for one reason or another.

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  5. From PL. This doesn’t pass the laugh test:

    “* ANOTHER IRS OFFICIAL GIVES CONFLICTING TESTIMONY: USA Today reports that a high ranking IRS official testified to House investigators that the term “Tea Party” internally referred to any political group, not just conservative ones — more confirmation liberal groups were also targeted. ”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2013/06/17/the-morning-plum-marco-rubios-epic-challenge-on-immigration/

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  6. Does Greg beleive it and what does it say about his journalistic credibility either way?

    I guess MMfA was right.

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  7. Hah jnc, I read a lot of things from the PL that don’t pass the laugh test, but I agree with you on that one for sure.

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  8. OT: Snowden & Greenwald did a Q&A with readers at the Guardian. Some of the comments directly address earlier discussions here.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/17/edward-snowden-nsa-files-whistleblower

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  9. Finally!

    Komen is getting a new CEO

    Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced Monday that it has a new CEO.

    The breast cancer charity named Judith A. Salerno to replace founder Nancy Brinker, whose promise to her dying sister began a fundraising powerhouse that invested hundreds of millions of dollars in cancer research. Brinker announced last summer she would step down following an onslaught of criticism over Komen’s quickly reversed decision to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings.

    Salerno, 61, is executive director and chief operating officer of the Institute of Medicine, a prestigious independent group that advises the government and private sector about health and science.

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    • So apparently the organization did well for itself by its patience.

      Curious, now that Okie isn’t here – has anyone but I watched the Spurs and Heat?

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      • Mark:

        Spurs and Heat

        I watched last night. Hoping the Spurs can pull it off. I am not a LeBron fan.

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      • Mark… My hubby is from Dallas, so yes, we also are watching.

        Nova… CONGRATS ! I’m sure he, as well as you and your entire family, are thrilled at the early return !

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  10. This is significant:

    “Supreme Court Lets Regulators Sue Over Generic Drug Deals
    By EDWARD WYATT
    Published: June 17, 2013

    WASHINGTON — Federal regulators can sue drug companies for antitrust violations when brand-name drug makers pay generic competitors to keep cheaper, rival copies of a drug off the market, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

    In a decision that shifts the balance of power in the drug business, manufacturers will now have to defend the agreements against charges that they violate anticompetition laws, perhaps exposing the companies to a greater likelihood of aggressive competition from generic drugs and to lawsuits from drug retailers and wholesalers, insurers and others. Consumers also could benefit from sharply lower drug costs. ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/business/supreme-court-says-drug-makers-can-be-sued-over-pay-for-delay-deals.html?hp&_r=0

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  11. Scott:

    I am not a LeBron fan.

    Why not? (Serious question. I know why I’m not, I’m curious to find out if we agree yet again).

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  12. I haven’t offered anything here in response to Lulu’s post, for time considerations. But I want her to know I think it is a great post. Way better than most of what passes for professional journalism. Maybe I can get back here later for more than a minute.

    I am amazed by LeBron the athlete. I’d take him first in a pick-up game. He is an excellent team player, as well. But the Spurs under Pop have optimized teamwork – spacing, passing, solid defense, constant movement without the ball – all the fundamentals. And if you saw the HEB [grocery] ads with Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, you couldn’t help but like them.
    Also, Kawhi Leonard will never need botox.

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    • Lulu, I have read “reliable reports” that 20% of CA’s water supply is utilized specifically for alfafa and dairy exports to China.

      Is this a point of discussion in Riverside-San B?

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    • I’d probably take LeBron first in a pickup game as well. And I actually used to like him, but he really put me off with the whole “The Decision” thing.

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      • Good news — my uncle’s orders changed and he’s coming back from Afghanistan early. will be in Denver instead.

        he’s also very lucky. his humvee ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. the gauge was broken. just him another sailor, and an interpreter and some small arms. a black sedan as the first to come by. they thought — local warlord and we’re dead. turned out to be a coalition political type (i don’t know, mom’s relaying the story). after chewing them out, he gave them a ride.

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  13. Mark, water issues are huge in CA for obvious reasons but I’m not too familiar with the China connection. Our little community here is on well water which is a whole different issue that keeps the bottled water industry alive and well here, but not at our house because we have a sophisticated filtration system, but we cannot drink the water!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t have time to look into it today…………………we’re getting a big order out to Australia this week……$$$$$$$$$$$

    And btw, “professional journalism” is a really giant sized stretch. You don’t have to flatter me to keep me around……….it was just a bunch of links. 😉

    I’ll try to check in later.

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  14. The CA water issues were covered on the PBS NewsHour on Friday.

    “SUSANNE RUST: Alfalfa is California’s largest acreage crop and also one of the most water-intensive, using about a fifth of the state’s precious water.

    Despite China’s land mass, it has a shortage of water and arable land, so a few years ago Chinese dairy producers began buying alfalfa from California and other Western states.

    DAN PUTNAM: Exports to China are definitely increasing. We have seen a pretty dramatic rise since the year 2005-2006, and I think all expectations are that it will probably increase again this coming year.

    SUSANNE RUST: Not everyone is eager to see that happen. Critics complain that California shouldn’t be shipping its valuable water supplies to China in the form of alfalfa.

    What’s more, environmental advocates point out that dairies cause serious environmental damage, and question if California should support such a large industry, much less seek to supply China.”

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/jan-june13/food_06-14.html

    This was also something I didn’t know:

    “SUSANNE RUST: While feed costs have gone up, the price of milk, which is controlled by the state, has lagged.”

    I didn’t realize that direct price controls were still in effect (as separate from subsidies).

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    • This article is relevant to the question I asked the other day, re why the outrage over the NSA’s collection of data but no outrage over the IRS’s collection of data:

      The Internal Revenue Service is collecting a lot more than taxes this year — it’s also acquiring a huge volume of personal information on taxpayers’ digital activities, from eBay auctions to Facebook posts and, for the first time ever, credit card and e-payment transaction records, as it expands its search for tax cheats to places it’s never gone before.

      The IRS, under heavy pressure to help Washington out of its budget quagmire by chasing down an estimated $300 billion in revenue lost to evasions and errors each year, will start using “robo-audits” of tax forms and third-party data the IRS hopes will help close this so-called “tax gap.” But the agency reveals little about how it will employ its vast, new network scanning powers.

      Tax lawyers and watchdogs are concerned about the sweeping changes being implemented with little public discussion or clear guidelines, and Congressional staff sources say the IRS use of “big data” will be a key issue when the next IRS chief comes to the Senate for approval. Acting commissioner Steven T. Miller replaced Douglas Shulman last November.

      “It’s well-known in the tax community, but not many people outside of it are aware of this big expansion of data and computer use,” says Edward Zelinsky, a tax law expert and professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Yale Law School. “I am sure people will be concerned about the use of personal information on databases in government, and those concerns are well-taken. It’s appropriate to watch it carefully. There should be safeguards.” He adds that taxpayers should know that whatever people do and say electronically can and will be used against them in IRS enforcement.

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  15. I understand how doing network analysis of phone logs find terrorists, kinda. They are still looking for too small a needle in too big of a haystack. But I have no idea how tracking Facebook status finds tax cheats.

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  16. When you post about the stuff you bought or the trips you took without the documented income to support it. The IRS can initiate an audit at any time. They also employ undercover agents to go after individual taxpayers.

    ” The film, “Running the Sahara,” was released in the fall of 2008. Eventually, it caught the attention of Robert W. Nordlander, a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service. As Mr. Nordlander later told the grand jury, “Being the special agent that I am, I was wondering, how does a guy train for this because most people have to work from nine to five and it’s very difficult to train for this part-time.” (He also told the grand jurors that sometimes, when he sees somebody driving a Ferrari, he’ll check to see if they make enough money to afford it. When I called Mr. Nordlander and others at the I.R.S. to ask whether this was an appropriate way to choose subjects for criminal tax investigations, my questions were met with a stone wall of silence.)

    Mr. Engle’s tax records showed that while his actual income was substantial, his taxable income was quite small, in part because he had a large tax-loss carry forward, due to a business deal he’d been involved in several years earlier. (Mr. Nordlander would later inform the grand jury only of his much lower taxable income, which made it seem more suspicious.) Still convinced that Mr. Engle must be hiding income, Mr. Nordlander did undercover surveillance and took “Dumpster dives” into Mr. Engle’s garbage. He mainly discovered that Mr. Engle lived modestly.

    In March 2009, still unsatisfied, Mr. Nordlander persuaded his superiors to send an attractive female undercover agent, Ellen Burrows, to meet Mr. Engle and see if she could get him to say something incriminating. In the course of several flirtatious encounters, she asked him about his investments.

    After acknowledging that he had been speculating in real estate during the bubble to help support his running, he said, according to Mr. Nordlander’s grand jury testimony, “I had a couple of good liar loans out there, you know, which my mortgage broker didn’t mind writing down, you know, that I was making four hundred thousand grand a year when he knew I wasn’t.”

    Mr. Engle added, “Everybody was doing it because it was simply the way it was done. That doesn’t make me proud of the fact that I am at least a small part of the problem.”

    Unbeknownst to Mr. Engle, Ms. Burrows was wearing a wire.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/business/26nocera.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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    • jnc:

      re that Kos piece by Stetson, I am trying to figure out how Bush could turn a libertarian into a liberal. My sense is that Stetson isn’t really all that familiar with libertarianism, despite claiming to have been one before being apparently turned by Bush.

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  17. “they simply no longer believe that it is even possible in America today for the federal government to do good, rather than all the bad things it’s doing. Once people come to that belief, they naturally decide “screw government!” and they start voting for Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and other exponents of the philosophy that government doesn’t work and therefore it should be cut to the bone.”

    *excellent*

    this is basically the conversation I had with my father over beers on Sunday.

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  18. Funny first comment:

    Most polling indicates that the Democrats at large support those things that people find important, even allowing for the fact that the Federal, and many State Governments are unwilling, or unable to get the bills passed.

    This exemplifies mainstream D narratives, that “R obstructionism” is blocking laws being enacted. It’s moronic to think that passing laws = effective governmental administration. I’d even go further, the more laws that get passed = worse governmental administration.

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  19. this one is my favorite:

    Young voters are too open minded to find refuge in such a narrow, restricted political party, one that is so bereft of intellect and stimulating political ideas. I alwyas think of libertarianism as a political philosophy for cranky, opinionated old and middle aged men who don’t want to think for themselves.

    “If you can’t take their money, eat their food, drink their booze and then vote against them, you have no business being in DC.”

    by Betty Pinson on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 06:26:44 PM PDT

    I’m at a loss to explain what her signature means.

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  20. jnc: I took the liberty of using your expat/libertarian definition on PL as the QOTD here. I’m not quite cynical enough to be a Cynical Libertarian, but I think you’re spot on in what you said.

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  21. No problem Michi. I figured it was worth pointing out in reference to the commenter that it was relevant to.

    The original Robert Kuttner piece that inspired the Daily Kos item is worth reading as well:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/thinking-about-the-government_b_3451331.html

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    • jnc:

      re your QOTD, I was an expat for 14 years, from 1992 thru 2006, including nearly 7 years in Hong Kong, a place with a much more libertarian government than the US. At no point did I feel less allegiance to the US. In fact, I would say that the routine and unthinking anti-Americanism that I experienced, particularly in Europe, actually made me more forcefully loyal to the US than I had been before, which was one of the motivating factors in my decision to start The American Expatriate.

      Maybe this makes me less libertarian than I imagine, but I’d say that libertarianism is pertinent only to one’s approach to government, and there are many, many more things to value about, and produce loyalty towards, the US than simply its government.

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  22. “I am trying to figure out how Bush could turn a libertarian into a liberal.”

    Between Bush & Tom Delay, they did do a good job of discrediting the idea of a small government conservative.

    Also, Bush’s FEMA response to Katrina and the lack of occupation planning for Iraq does go to the idea of whether or not Republicans are inhibited by their ideology from properly managing the actual real core responsibilities of government.

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    • jnc:

      Between Bush & Tom Delay, they did do a good job of discrediting the idea of a small government conservative.

      By being a big government conservative?

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    • I’m not sure what I’m now or even what I was then but Bush turned be into something. A newt perhaps.

      The invasion of Iraq on the slimmest of pretexts soured me on the entire party. I’ve been a RINO for nearly a decade now.

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  23. jnc,
    Lots of good quotes in that Kuttner essay. Like this one:

    Once conservatives supported balanced budgets, while liberals were willing to use deficits to finance public investments to dig out of economic slumps. Today’s conservatives run up deficits as a way of clubbing government, and liberals in the White House cut public spending as a way of showing fiscal responsibility. No wonder voters are baffled about who really stands for what.

    Like

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