Tag Archives: David Dayen

Wikileaks 2.0

http://bankofamericasuck.com/

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

A member of the activist collective Anonymous is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove “fraud” was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it’ll release them on Monday. The member, who goes by the Twitter handle OperationLeakS, has already posted an internal email from the formerly Bank of America-owned Balboa Insurance Company

The email is between Balboa Insurance vice president Peggy Johnson and other Balboa employees. (Click right to enlarge.) As far as we can tell, it doesn’t show anything suspicious, but was posted by OperationLeaks as a teaser. He also posted emails he claims are from the disgruntled employee who sent him the material. In one, the employee says he can “send you a copy of the certified letter sent to me by an AVP of BofA’s [HR department] telling me I am banned from stepping foot on BofA property or contacting their employee ever again.”

OperationLeaks, which runs the anti-Bank of America site BankofAmericasuck.com, says the employee contacted the group to blow the whistle on Bank of America’s shady business practices. “I seen some of the emails… I can tell you Grade A Fraud in its purest form…” read one tweet. “He Just told me he have GMAC emails showing BoA order to mix loan numbers to not match it’s Documents.. to foreclose on Americans.. Shame.”

An Anonymous insider told us he believes the leak is real. “From what I know and have been told, it’s legit,” he said. “Should be a round of emails, then some files, possible some more emails to follow that.” The documents should be released Monday on Anonleaks.ch, the same site where Anonymous posted thousands of internal emails from hacked security company HBGary last month. That leak exposed a legally-questionable plot to attack Wikileaks and ultimately led to the resignation of HBGary CEO Aaron Barr.

Katya Wachtel at Clusterstock:

Anonymous said late Sunday evening, however, “this is part 1 of the Emails.” So perhaps more incriminating correspondence is to come. And to be honest, these messages could be incredibly damaging, but we’re not mortgage specialists and don’t know if this is or isn’t common in the field. The beauty is, you can see and decide for yourself at bankofamericasuck.com.

But for those who want a simple explanation, here’s a summary of the content.

The Source

The ex-Balboa employee tells Anonymous that what he/she sends will be enough to,

crack [BofA’s] armor, and put a bad light on a $700 mil cash deal they need to pay back the government while ruining their already strained relationship with GMAC, one of their largest clients. Trust me… it’ll piss them off plenty.

The source then sends over a paystub, an unemployment form, a letter from HR upon dismissal and his/her last paystub and an ID badge.

He/she also describes his/herself:

My name is (Anonymous). For the last 7 years, I worked in the Insurance/Mortgage industry for a company called Balboa Insurance. Many of you do not know who Balboa Insurance Group is, but if you’ve ever had a loan for an automobile, farm equipment, mobile home, or residential or commercial property, we knew you. In fact, we probably charged you money…a lot of money…for insurance you didn’t even need.

Balboa Insurance Group, and it’s largest competitor, the market leader Assurant, is in the business of insurance tracking and Force Placed Insurance…  What this means is that when you sign your name on the dotted line for your loan, the lienholder has certain insurance requirements that must be met for the life of the lien. Your lender (including, amongst others, GMAC… IndyMac… HSBC… Wells Fargo/Wachovia… Bank of America) then outsources the tracking of your loan with them to a company like Balboa Insurance.

The Emails

Next comes the emails that are supposed to be so damaging. The set of emails just released shows conversational exchanges between Balboa employees.

The following codes pertain to the emails, so use as reference:

  1. SOR = System of Record
  2. Rembrandt/Tracksource = Insurance tracking systems
  3. DTN = Document Tracking Number. A number assigned to all incoming/outgoing documents (letters, insurance documents, etc)

The first email asks for a group of GMAC DTN’s to have their “images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt.” The relevant DTNs are included in the email — there’s between 50-100 of them.

In reply, a Balboa employee says that the DTN’s cannot be removed from the Rembrandt, but that the loan numbers can be removed so “the documents will not show as matched to those loans.” But she adds that she needs upper management approval before she moves forward, since it’s an unusual request.

Then it gets approved. And then, one of the Balboa employees voices their concern. He says,

“I’m just a little concerned about the impact this has on the department and the company. Why are we removing all record of this error? We have told Denise Cahen, and there is always going to be the paper trail when one of these sent documents come back. this to me seems to be a huge red flag for the auditors… when the auditor sees the erroneous letter but no SOR trail or scanned doc on the corrected letter… What am I missing? This just doesn’t seem right to me.

We suspect this is the type of email that Anonymous believes shows BofA fraud:

leak one

Image: Anonymous

Click here to see why these emails prove nothing interesting, and to see what what Bank of America says about the emails >

Chris V. Nicholson at Dealbook at NYT:

A Bank of America spokesman told Reuters on Sunday that the documents had been stolen by a former Balboa employee, and were not tied to foreclosures. “We are confident that his extravagant assertions are untrue,” the spokesman said.

The e-mails dating from November 2010 concern correspondence among Balboa employees in which they discuss taking steps to alter the record about certain documents “that went out in error.” The documents were related to loans by GMAC, a Bank of America client, according to the e-mails.

“The following GMAC DTN’s need to have the images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt,” an operations team manager at Balboa wrote. DTN refers to document tracking number, and Tracksource/Rembrandt is an insurance tracking system.

The response he receives: “I have spoken to my developer and she stated that we cannot remove the DTNs from Rembrandt, but she can remove the loan numbers, so the documents will not show as matched to those loans.”

According to the e-mails, approval was given to remove the loan numbers from the documents.

A member of Anonymous told DealBook on Monday that the purpose of his Web site was to bring attention to the wrongdoing of banks. “The way the system is, it’s made to cheat the average person,” he said.

He had set up a Web site to post bank data that WikiLeaks has said it would release, and was subsequently contacted this month by the former Balboa employee. It has been speculated that the documents, which have yet to be released, would focus on Bank of America. The spokesman for Anonymous said he had no direct ties to WikiLeaks, which is run by Julian Assange.

Nitasha Tiku at New York Magazine:

WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has threatened to leak damning documents on Bank of America since 2009. And Anonymous has backed WikiLeaks’ mission as far as the free flow of information. But these e-mails date from November 2010. Plus, they don’t exactly amount to a smoking gun. Whether or not the e-mails prove real, it’s clear Bank of America should have expanded its negative-domain-name shopping spree beyond BrianMoynihanSucks.com.

Naked Capitalism:

The charge made in this Anonymous release (via BankofAmericaSuck) is that Bank of America, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Balboa Insurance and the help of cooperating servicers, engaged in a mortgage borrower abuse called “force placed insurance”. This is absolutely 100% not kosher. Famed subprime servicer miscreant Fairbanks in 2003 signed a consent decree with the FTC and HUD over abuses that included forced placed insurance. The industry is well aware that this sort of thing is not permissible. (Note Balboa is due to be sold to QBE of Australia; I see that the definitive agreement was entered into on February 3 but do not see a press release saying that the sale has closed)

While the focus of ire may be Bank of America, let me stress that this sort of insurance really amounts to a scheme to fatten servicer margins. If this leak is accurate, the servicers at a minimum cooperated. If they got kickbacks, um, commissions, they are culpable and thus liable.

As we have stated repeatedly, servicers lose tons of money on portfolios with a high level of delinquencies and defaults. The example of Fairbanks, a standalone servicer who subprime portfolio got in trouble in 2002, is that servicers who are losing money start abusing customers and investors to restore profits. Fairbanks charged customers for force placed insurance and as part of its consent decree, paid large fines and fired its CEO (who was also fined).

Regardless, this release lends credence a notion too obvious to borrowers yet the banks and its co-conspirators, meaning the regulators, have long denied, that mortgage servicing and foreclosures are rife with abuses and criminality. Here’s some background courtesy Barry Ritholtz:

When a homeowner fails to keep up their insurance premiums on a mortgaged residence, their loan servicer has the option/obligation to step in to buy a comparable insurance policy on the loan holder’s behalf, to ensure the mortgaged property remains fully insured….

Consider one case found by [American Banker’s Jeff] Horwitz. A homeowner’s $4,000 insurance policy, was paid by the loan servicer, Everbank via escrow. But Everbank purposely let that insurance policy lapse, and then replaced it with a different policy – one that cost more than $33,000. To add insult to injury, the insurer, a subsidiary of Assurant, paid Everbank a $7,100 kickback for giving it such a lucrative policy — and, writes Horwitz, “left the door open to further compensation” down the road.

That $33,000 policy — including the $7,100 kickback – is an enormous amount of money for any loan servicer to make on a single property. The average loan servicer makes just $51 per loan per year.

Here’s where things get interesting: That $33,000 insurance premium is ultimately paid by the investors who bought the loan.

And the worst of this is….the insurance is often reinsured by the bank/servicer, which basically means the insurance is completely phony. The servicer will never put in a claim to trigger payment. As Felix Salmon noted,

This is doubly evil: it not only means that investors are paying far too much money for the insurance, but it also means that, as both the servicer and the ultimate insurer of the property, JPMorgan Chase has every incentive not to pursue claims on the houses it services. Investors, of course, would love to recoup any losses from the insurer, but they can’t bring such a claim — only the servicer can do that.

Note there are variants of this scheme where insurance is charged to the borrower (I’ve been told of insurance being foisted on borrowers that amounts to unconsented-to default insurance, again with the bank as insurer; this has been anecdotal with insufficient documentation, but I’ve heard enough independent accounts to make me pretty certain it was real)

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Just because something has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it doesn’t necessarily mean the specific case is true. But the forced-place insurance scam has been part of other servicer lawsuits, so it definitely exists. Whether this set of emails shows that taking place is another matter. Apparently this is just the first Anonymous email dump, so there should be more on the way

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

Parmy Olson at Forbes:

Yet however inconclusive the e-mails may be, the leak may have wider implications as Anonymous gradually proves itself a source of comeuppance for disgruntled employees with damning information about a company or institution. Once the domain of WikiLeaks, the arrest of key whistleblower Bradley Manning suggested the site founded by fellow incarcerate Julian Assange could not always protect its sources. “A lot depends on the impact of this week,” says Gabriella Coleman, a professor at NYU who is researching Anonymous, who added that “Anonymous could go in that [WikiLeaks] direction.”

Anonymous is not an institution like WikiLeaks. It is global, has no leader, no clear hierarchy and no identifiable spokespeople save for pseudo-representatives like Gregg Housh (administrator of whyweprotest.net) and Barrett Brown.

It has some ideals: Anonymous tends to defend free speach and fight internet censorship, as with the DDoS-ing of the web sites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after they nixed funding services to WikiLeaks, and the DDoS-ing of Tunisian government Web sites. It is also great at spectacle. The group’s hacking of software security firm HBGary Federal not only gained oodles of press attention, it inadvertently revealed the firm had been proposing a dirty tricks campaign with others against WikiLeaks to Bank of America’s lawyers.

That hack led, rather organically, to the establishment of AnonLeaks.ru, a Web site where the Anonymous hackers posted tens of thousands of HBGary e-mails in a handy web viewer. While it took just five supporters to hack HBGary, hundreds more poured through the e-mails to identify incriminating evidence, leading to more press reports on the incident.

Such is the nature of Anonymous–global, fluid, intelligent, impossible to pin down–that it is could become an increasingly popular go-to for people wishing to vent damaging information about an institution with questionable practices.

The collective already receives dozens of requests each month from the public to attack all manner of unsavoury subjects, from personal targets to the government of Libya, from Westboro Baptist Church to Facebook. It rarely responds to them–as one Anonymous member recently told me, “we’re not hit men.”

Yet for all its facets as both hot-tempered cyber vigilantes and enlighteners of truth, Anonymous is becoming increasingly approachable, as the latest emails between OperationLeakS and the former BoA employee show. Assuming this particular employee doesn’t end up languishing in jail like Manning, more people may now be inclined to follow suit.

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The Dean Is Dead

Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:

David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.

In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.

As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”

He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.

Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I’ve never met the person.

Broder (“David” to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after — decades after — earning the status of “dean of the Washington press corps.” He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call “a newspaper reporter.” He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

He could turn his analytical eye on his own reporting: Read this story by Broder, in which he expresses doubts about his influential report of Ed Muskie becoming tearful in the snow outside the Union-Leader office in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. Maybe it was just melting snow!

Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder’s columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations — the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

David Weigel:

Last September, I traveled to Delaware to interview Rep. Mike Castle and his challenger, Christine O’Donnell, about a soon-to-be-infamous primary election. Castle and I talked for a long while he shook hands with voters outside the Arden Fair.

“This is becoming a pretty big deal,” Castle said. “You just missed David Broder. He came up here to interview me about the race.”

Broder, at that point, was about to turn 81 years old. He hadn’t just beaten me to the story, he’d beaten me by a month, traveling up to Delaware to interview Castle and introduce readers to Chris Coons, a “worthy match” who could actually win. After Castle lost the primary, the political press — myself included, reluctantly — spent countless pixels covering O’Donnell. But Coons won. If you had read Broder’s reporting, you would have expected that.

I can think of nothing more satisfying than doing what you love, doing it well, and making your readers more informed about the world because of the information you’re gathering. I’m deeply grateful to Broder for doing that for so many people over such a long time.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

Broder was working up until the very end, and anybody who covers politics for a living has probably bumped into him at one point or another. I remember covering the Rudy Giuliani campaign during a cold weekend in New Hampshire in November 2007, and Broder, then in his late 70s, was touring along. I noticed him at one event, standing in the back, his hand slightly shaking as he took notes the old fashioned way while younger reporters were running around with digital recorders and scrambling to upload video on their laptops.

I wondered whether I’d still find the campaign trail so alluring when I reached that age.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

A few quick facts about David Broder:

  • He was only a car or two behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963. He was proud of his ability to show no human emotion during this traumatic episode for the country. This is probably how he secured “dean” status, by preventing himself from writing with any sort of sadness or sympathy during the assassination of a golden-boy president several yards away.
  • He hated the Clintons and led the moralistic Beltway howl against President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the angriest he’d ever been in his life, when he heard about Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky.
  • He liked compromise and bipartisanship as ends in themselves, had no real interest in analyzing specific pieces of legislation, and was an original proponent of many other familiar Washington media traits, like “both sides do it.” For more, google High Broderism.
  • He was an important figure in 1972’s The Boys on the Bus, one of the earliest media-centric books showcasing the depravity of “pack journalism” on the campaign trail.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The phrase “Broderism” became a signifier in the blogosphere for a certain type of self-regarding faux-centrism which always seemed to side with deficit peacocks over everyone else, and defaulted to the position that the midpoint between any two issues was always the wisest course.

Broder’s book “The System,” about the failure of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, is actually a highly regarded work. But for many years, he seemed to have been writing the same column over and over, attacking the extremes of political debate in favor of the sensible center.

Nevertheless, Broder had a very strong pull on national politics, and was considered within Washington as the dean of the national press corps. So his death changes that landscape, however subtly

 

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Erlernen Sie Von Uns, Amerika, Part III

David Leonhardt at NYT:

Remember the German economic boom of 2010?

Germany’s economic growth surged in the middle of last year, causing commentators both there and here to proclaim that American stimulus had failed and German austerity had worked. Germany’s announced budget cuts, the commentators said, had given private companies enough confidence in the government to begin spending their own money again.

Well, it turns out the German boom didn’t last long. With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

Yet many members of Congress continue to insist that budget cuts are the path to prosperity. The only question in Washington seems to be how deeply to cut federal spending this year.

If the economy were at a different point in the cycle — not emerging from a financial crisis — the coming fight over spending could actually be quite productive. Republicans could force Democrats to make government more efficient, which Democrats rarely do on their own. Democrats could force Republicans to abandon the worst of their proposed cuts, like those to medical research, law enforcement, college financial aid and preschools. And maybe such a benevolent compromise can still occur over the next several years.

The immediate problem, however, is the fragility of the economy. Gross domestic product may have surpassed its previous peak, but it’s still growing too slowly for companies to be doing much hiring. States, of course, are making major cuts. A big round of federal cuts will only make things worse.

So if the opponents of deep federal cuts, starting with President Obama, are trying to decide how hard to fight, they may want to err on the side of toughness. Both logic and history make this case.

Let’s start with the logic. The austerity crowd argues that government cuts will lead to more activity by the private sector. How could that be? The main way would be if the government were using so many resources that it was driving up their price and making it harder for companies to use them.

In the early 1990s, for instance, government borrowing was pushing up interest rates. When the deficit began to fall, interest rates did too. Projects that had not previously been profitable for companies suddenly began to make sense. The resulting economic boom brought in more tax revenue and further reduced the deficit.

But this virtuous cycle can’t happen today. Interest rates are already very low. They’re low because the financial crisis and recession caused a huge drop in the private sector’s demand for loans. Even with all the government spending to fight the recession, overall demand for loans has remained historically low, the data shows.

Similarly, there is no evidence that the government is gobbling up too many workers and keeping them from the private sector. When John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said last week that federal payrolls had grown by 200,000 people since Mr. Obama took office, he was simply wrong. The federal government has added only 58,000 workers, largely in national security, since January 2009. State and local governments have cut 405,000 jobs over the same span.

The fundamental problem after a financial crisis is that businesses and households stop spending money, and they remain skittish for years afterward. Consider that new-vehicle sales, which peaked at 17 million in 2005, recovered to only 12 million last year. Single-family home sales, which peaked at 7.5 million in 2005, continued falling last year, to 4.6 million. No wonder so many businesses are uncertain about the future.

Without the government spending of the last two years — including tax cuts — the economy would be in vastly worse shape. Likewise, if the federal government begins laying off tens of thousands of workers now, the economy will clearly suffer.

Doug J.:

Bobo six months ago on German austerity:

The early returns suggest the Germans were. The American stimulus package was supposed to create a “summer of recovery,” according to Obama administration officials. Job growth was supposed to be surging at up to 500,000 a month. Instead, the U.S. economy is scuffling along.

[….]

The economy can’t be played like a piano — press a fiscal key here and the right job creation notes come out over there. Instead, economic management is more like parenting. If you instill good values and create a secure climate then, through some mysterious process you will never understand, things will probably end well.

An actual economics reporter (Dave Leonhardt) today:

With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

[…..]

“It’s really quite striking how well the U.S. is performing relative to the U.K., which is tightening aggressively,” says Ian Shepherdson, a Britain-based economist for the research firm High Frequency Economics, “and relative to Germany, which is tightening more modestly.” Mr. Shepherdson adds that he generally opposes stimulus programs for a normal recession but that they are crucial after a crisis.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that any argument involving the idea of government as parent will be a faulty argument.

No one could have predicted that Paul Krugman would be right about austerity.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

David Leonhardt is speaking simple economic truths in what must sound like a foreign language, given the tenor of debates over the past few months. Standard economic theories haven’t applied in Washington for a while, so Leonhardt’s essay has the force of the running man throwing the hammer into the Big Brother TV screen in the famous Apple 1984 commercial.

Leonhardt manages to mention that GDP is still growing too slowly in the US for mass hiring, even with a higher growth rate than Germany. He manages to note the state and local cuts that will blunt recovery. He manages to look at interest rates, which are historically low, and reason that government spending is not crowding out the private sector in any way. He calls John Boehner a liar for saying the federal workforce has grown by 200,000 employees since Barack Obama’s tenure in office (it’s about 1/4 that). He says that the problem right now is a lack of demand. He cites the much better example of Britain, which has gone whole-hog for austerity and seen negative job growth and negative GDP growth since.

I’d like to think that this kind of truth would, like resuscitating a dying patient, shock the political class back to life. More likely it will just fall down the memory hole, drowned out by the bipartisan cries of “we all want to cut spending.” The unemployed are still invisible, economic theory is still upside down, and one article won’t change that.

It would be nice if it did.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

What do we learn from the correlation between states with the worst housing bust and budget shortfalls? If U.S. economic growth slows, the federal deficit situation will get worse. Republicans believe that cutting government spending will spur economic growth. But the evidence we have from countries that have attempted such a strategy since the Great Recession began to ebb — Germany and the United Kingdom — suggests exactly the opposite. Austerity policies are not the right medicine for a fragile economy.

Felix Salmon:

One of the best aspects of being a journalist is that you get to talk at length to the most knowledgeable and interesting experts on just about any subject you can think of. For me, yesterday was a prime case in point: a long and fascinating lunch with James Macdonald, the author of my favorite book on the history of sovereign debt. Turns out he also has a microscopic vineyard in Tuscany, so the conversation ebbed wonderfully from economics to wine and back.

Macdonald has an economic historian’s view of the current austerity debate, and he was very clear: if you look at the history of countries trying to cut and deflate their way to prosperity while keeping their currencies pegged, it’s pretty grim — all the way back to Napoleonic times. Sometimes, the peg is gold. For a good example of the destructive abilities of that particular peg, look at the UK in the 1920s, which Macdonald says was arguably worse than the US in the 1930s: shallower, to be sure, but substantially longer. The devaluation of the pound, when it finally came, was very long overdue.

At other times, the peg is simply political: Macdonald gives the example of southern Italy being locked into what was essentially the Piedmontese monetary system at the time of the Risorgimento. That might have been well over a century ago, but there’s a case to be made that it has hobbled just about everywhere south of Rome to this day — and that’s in a country with about as much internal labor mobility as between EU countries.

So from a historical perspective, the prospects for countries like Portugal, Ireland and Greece are pretty grim. They can cut their budgets drastically and stay pegged to the euro, but most of them would be better off in the position of Iceland, which can and did devalue in a crisis (and allowed its banks to default, too). So far, the Baltic states have stuck to their deflationary guns with the most determination and discipline, but such things work until they don’t: at some point it’s entirely possible that Latvia or Estonia could pull an Argentina and kickstart growth by devaluing.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I’m sure that, in the light of this new evidence, American conservatives will undertake a thorough rethinking of their anti-stimulus beliefs. After all, as they told us at the time, this was a natural experiment.

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Where Will Harold Ford Go Now?

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

But Reed left the DLC last year himself to serve as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, leaving Ed Gresser, a trade expert, to lead the group in the interim. Since then the board “hasn’t been able to find someone who wanted to come on in a permanent capacity,” a person familiar with the group’s woes said, with the central problem the difficulty of raising money for a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.

Gresser declined to comment on the DLC’s future, and referred a call to From, who didn’t immediately respond to a message left with an assistant.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

It’s hard to remember, but the whole rise of the progressive netroots was organized around opposition to the DLC, which liberals saw as Satan incarnate. Bill Clinton was an early member, and the DLC helped frame his presidential candidacy.

I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats.

But for the main part, the DLC disappeared because its work was over. The remaking of the Democratic Party begun by Clinton held in place. The DLC floundered because it had nowhere else to go — having moved the party to the center, it could only advocate for the party is it stood in the Clinton and post-Clinton era, or advocate that it move further still toward the center. It became a an anachronism.

Ezra Klein:

What it hasn’t been able to do is adapt to success. It hasn’t mended relations with liberals, so it never could become the all-purpose Democratic think tank and holding pen that the Center for American Progress is. Its policy shop and messaging shops got a bit stale, which allowed upstarts like Third Way to pass it in influence. It continued picking fights with people like Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas, which meant that when it got headlines, they weren’t necessarily good ones. It hasn’t nurtured and held onto the young talent that could help it build new constituencies or really update its thinking. It never figured out the Web.

But if I were Al From, the organization’s founder, I’d feel pretty good about myself. For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.

Marc Ambinder at National Journal:

More prosaically, the DLC did something in 2006 to permanently alienate them from virtually the entire party: they endorsed Joe Lieberman’s re-election bid. Lieberman’s stalwart support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush was just about the biggest sin of all to Democrats of the era. Some issues are zero sum, and the DLC found itself on the wrong side of history, as least as far as the Democratic Party was concerned.
There are two other factors worth mentioning. One was that Big Labor became all the more important to helping Democrats get out the vote, and that made it more difficult for Democrats to affiliate with the DLC. The second was that the Netroots — Atrios and Daily Kos and Chris Bowers — thought the DLC’s “centrism” was equivalent to the politics of concession and compromise.
No question: the Netroots and progressive left are at the center of gravity for the Democratic Party as an institution. There is a distinction, though, between energy and influence. And it still isn’t clear how Democrats win the election without galvanizing the type of voters the DLC sought to attract. The group may be going away, but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come.
The truth of the matter is that the DLCs function has been taken over by Third Way. Nobody needs to fear that the centrists aren’t going to be well represented in the Democratic Party. They run the place.
David Dayen at Firedoglake

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Way back in 2005, Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Daily Kos was quite irked with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and declared:

Two more weeks, folks, before we take them on, head on. No calls for a truce will be brooked. The DLC has used those pauses in the past to bide their time between offensives. Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ears (it’s summer of a non-election year, the perfect time to sort out internal disagreements). We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone’s help, we really can. Stay tuned.

He was going to make them “radioactive.” To think, if a conservative had said it, it would be considered encouraging dirty bomb attacks.

We scoffed. But no more. Apparently Kos really has perfected the promised radioactive superweapon. Ben Smith:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday…  Its website currently leads a Harold Ford op-ed from last November, titled, “Yes we can collaborate.” It lists as its staff just four people, and has only one fellow. Recent tax returns weren’t immediately publicly available, but returns from 2004-2008 show a decline in its budget from $2.6 million to $1.5 million, and a source said funding further dried up during the financial crisis that began nine months before Reed took over.

Could the long-promised superweapon be real? I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions dozens of centrist Democrats suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

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Yes, We Know That Hammer And Slammer Rhyme

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up:

In a long fall from grace, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for “conspiring to direct laundered corporate money” to seven state house candidates in 2002. In his prime, DeLay was one of the most powerful men in Congress, holding the second highest spot in the House of Representatives. “What we feel is that justice was served,” said lead prosecutor Gary Cobb in the aftermath of the ruling. Meanwhile, DeLay firmly maintained his innocence. “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did,” he said. He promised to appeal the ruling. Did the former House majority leader get off easy?

Jen Doll at The Village Voice:

DeLay was taken into custody, but will be released on a $10,000 bond pending appeal after he’s processed, which means he could remain free for months or years as his appeal goes through.

National Review:

The man who should be on trial in Texas is Ronnie Earle, the unethical Travis County prosecutor who went after DeLay as part of a political vendetta fueled by his bizarre belief that business owners’ political activities are “every bit as insidious as terrorism.” (Tell that to the almost 3,000 Americans who were murdered on 9/11.) How do we know Earle believes that? Because he had a documentary film crew follow him around as he pursued the indictment of DeLay, producing a film called The Big Buy that Earle used to try to win higher office in Texas. He used the same unprofessional and unethical tactics to prosecute Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (her case was thrown out by a judge) and former Texas attorney general Jim Mattox, who was acquitted and won reelection.

This was a phony prosecution from the very beginning. It took Earle three separate attempts before he could get a case that a grand jury or a judge would not throw out. Then he got DeLay indicted for behavior that was perfectly legitimate under campaign-finance laws, identical to the kind of fundraising done by practically every campaign committee and candidate in the country.

DeLay solicited $155,000 in contributions for a political-action committee he headed and contributed $190,000 to the Republican National State Election Committee (RNSEC); the RNSEC then contributed $877,000 to 42 state and local candidates in Texas in the final two months of the 2002 campaign, including seven recommended by DeLay. For this routine act of campaign financing, DeLay was charged with and convicted of criminal money laundering, a crime defined by knowingly using the proceeds of criminal activity. Since these contributions were all legal, the most basic element of this supposed crime could not be met; nonetheless, Earle drove the case forward in one of the most outrageous prosecutorial abuses of criminal law that we have seen in decades. Meanwhile Earle indicted a number of companies, including Sears, that had made perfectly legal contributions to DeLay’s PAC, and then sold those companies dismissals in exchange for donations to one of his favorite charities.

Government prosecutors have a duty and an obligation to enforce the law judiciously and fairly. The power they are given by society is immense, and so is the damage they can do when they abuse that power. Ronnie Earle has showed in case after case that he is a self-serving ideologue, a crass opportunist who uses his power as a prosecutor to pursue his own political and ideological agenda.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I bet he comes out of this advocating prison reform. It’s a cause that badly needs more high-profile conservative advocates.

David Frum at FrumForum:

I won’t pretend to any expertise on this question but … Doesn’t Citizens United raise at least some question about the campaign finance laws on which Tom DeLay was convicted? Seems an obvious challenge on appeal and at the Supreme Court. What do readers think?

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

He spoke to the court prior to sentencing, saying “I fought the fight. I ran the race. I kept the faith.” Former Speaker Denny Hastert also testified as a character witness on behalf of DeLay. Prosecutors showed a tape in court of DeLay’s comments after conviction, when he said, “Maybe we can get it before people who understand the law.”

I’d expect an appeal, so whether or not DeLay sees jail time right away depends on the judge’s decision to allow his release on bond.

Brian Doherty at Reason:

Undoubtedly DeLay as a former leading congressman is a criminal. Whether this particular interpretation of a law blocking free support and expression in politics is a proper bludgeon, I’d say no.

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Filed under Crime, Political Figures

The Blog Post That Went ‘Round The Sphere

zunguzungu:

And his [Julian Assange’s] underlying insight is simple and, I think, compelling: while an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to “think” as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy. The more closed the network is to outside intrusion, the less able it is to engage with that which is outside itself (true hacker theorizing).His thinking is not quite as abstract as all that, of course; as he quite explicitly notes, he is also understanding the functioning of the US state by analogy with successful terrorist organizations. If you’ve seen The Battle of Algiers, for example, think of how the French counter-terrorist people work to produce an organizational flow chart of the Algerian resistance movement: since they had overwhelming military superiority, their inability to crush the FLN resided in their inability to find it, an inability which the FLN strategically works to impede by decentralizing itself. Cutting off one leg of the octopus, the FLN realized, wouldn’t degrade the system as a whole if the legs all operated independently. The links between the units were the vulnerable spots for the system as a whole, so those were most closely and carefully guarded and most hotly pursued by the French. And while the French won the battle of Algiers, they lost the war, because they adopted the tactics Assange briefly mentions only to put aside:

How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act?…We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. Traditional attacks on conspiratorial power groupings, such as assassination, have cut high weight links by killing, kidnapping, blackmailing or otherwise marginalizing or isolating some of the conspirators they were connected to.

This is the US’s counterterrorism strategy — find the men in charge and get ’em — but it’s not what Assange wants to do: such a program would isolate a specific version of the conspiracy and attempt to destroy the form of it that already exists, which he argues will have two important limitations. For one thing, by the time such a conspiracy has a form which can be targeted, its ability to function will be quite advanced. As he notes:

“A man in chains knows he should have acted sooner for his ability to influence the actions of the state is near its end. To deal with powerful conspiratorial actions we must think ahead and attack the process that leads to them since the actions themselves can not be dealt with.”

By the time a cancer has metastasized, in other words, antioxidents are no longer effective, and even violent chemotherapy is difficult. It’s better, then, to think about how conspiracies come into existence so as to prevent them from forming in the first place (whereas if you isolate the carcinogen early enough, you don’t need to remove the tumor after the fact). Instead, he wants to address the aggregative process itself, by impeding the principle of its reproduction: rather than trying to expose and cut particular links between particular conspirators (which does little to prevent new links from forming and may not disturb the actual functioning of the system as a whole), he wants to attack the “total conspiratorial power” of the entire system by figuring out how to reduce its total ability to share and exchange information among itself, in effect, to slow down its processing power. As he puts it:

Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate (the conspiratorial environment), pass through the conspirators and then act on the result. We can see conspiracies as a type of device that has inputs (information about the environment), a computational network (the conspirators and their links to each other) and outputs (actions intending to change or maintain the environment).

Because he thinks of the conspiracy as a computational network, he notes in an aside that one way to weaken its cognitive ability would be to degrade the quality of its information:

Since a conspiracy is a type of cognitive device that acts on information acquired from its environment, distorting or restricting these inputs means acts based on them are likely to be misplaced. Programmers call this effect garbage in, garbage out. Usually the effect runs the other way; it is conspiracy that is the agent of deception and information restriction. In the US, the programmer’s aphorism is sometimes called “the Fox News effect”.

I’m not sure this is what he means, but it’s worth reflecting that the conspiracy’s ability to deceive others through propaganda can also be the conspiracy’s tendency to deceive itself by its own propaganda. So many people genuinely drink the Kool-Aid, after all. Would our super-spies in Afghanistan ever have been so taken in by the imposter Taliban guy if they didn’t, basically, believe their own line of propaganda, if they didn’t convince themselves — even provisionally — that we actually are winning the war against Talibothra? The same is true of WMD; while no one in possession of the facts could rationally conclude that Saddam Hussein then (or Iran now) are actually, positively in pursuit of WMD’s, this doesn’t mean that the people talking about ticking time bombs don’t actually believe that they are. It just means they are operating with bad information about the environment. Sometimes this works in their favor, but sometimes it does not: if Obama thinks Afghanistan is winnable, it may sink his presidency, for example, while the belief of his advisors that the economy would recover if the government rescued only the banks almost certainly lost the midterm elections for the Democrats (and was the death-knell for so many of the Blue Dogs who were driving that particular policy choice). Whether this actually hurts the conspiracy is unclear; those Blue Dogs might have lost their seats, but most of them will retire from public service to cushy jobs supported by the sectors they supported while they were in public service. And lots of successful politicians do nothing but fail.

This is however, not where Assange’s reasoning leads him. He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy. As he puts it:

If total conspiratorial power is zero, then clearly there is no information flow between the conspirators and hence no conspiracy. A substantial increase or decrease in total conspiratorial power almost always means what we expect it to mean; an increase or decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt…An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.

In this sense, most of the media commentary on the latest round of leaks has totally missed the point. After all, why are diplomatic cables being leaked? These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

Early responses seem to indicate that Wikileaks is well on its way to accomplishing some of its goals. As Simon Jenkins put it (in a great piece in its own right) “The leaks have blown a hole in the framework by which states guard their secrets.” And if the diplomats quoted by Le Monde are right that, “we will never again be able to practice diplomacy like before,” this is exactly what Wikileaks was trying to do. It’s sort of pathetic hearing diplomats and government shills lament that the normal work of “diplomacy” will now be impossible, like complaining that that the guy boxing you out is making it hard to get rebounds. Poor dears. If Assange is right to point out that his organization has accomplished more state scrutiny than the entire rest of the journalistic apparatus combined, he’s right but he’s also deflecting the issue: if Wikileaks does some of the things that journalists do, it also does some very different things. Assange, as his introductory remarks indicate quite clearly, is in the business of “radically shift[ing] regime behavior.”

Jesse Walker at Reason

Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing on the piece:

A close reading of a 2006 Julian Assange essay, useful for understanding the motivations behind Wikileaks.

Jonathan Holmes at ABC The Drum:

Though it may have been posted widely in recent months – I’ve been away – I came across it in a blog called Zunguzungu, written by a denizen of Oakland California called Aaron Bady. A couple of weeks ago he put up a post called ‘Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy’. His blog links to two documents by Julian Assange, titled ‘State and Terrorist Conspiracies’ and ‘Conspiracy as Governance’, written in November and December 2006 respectively. According to the UK Mail on Sunday‘s Jason Lewis, who quoted from the documents last August, they were written while Assange was at the University of Melbourne. I’ve not been able to verify their authenticity, other than by visiting the iq.org site myself and independently finding the second document here.

Anyway, if you’re interested in Julian Assange, I urge you to read both the Brady essay, and the Assange document. But if you haven’t time, let me summarise them as best I can.

Authoritarian states, argues Assange – and by that term he very clearly means democracies like the USA – are conspiracies, in the sense that they consist of a comparatively small number of people who ‘conspire’ to produce outcomes – economic, military, diplomatic – by sharing information, insights and plans which are not available to the people they are ruling and whose fortunes those outcomes will affect.

This is a bad thing.

Conspiracies need conspirators – some more important than others. But they also need the means to communicate secretly with each other, else there can be no conspiracy.

The computer age makes vast conspiracies possible – but it also makes them vulnerable. To quote from Assange’s introduction:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline…

Or, as he puts it graphically elsewhere in ‘Conspiracy and Governance’:

When we look at an authoritarian conspiracy as a whole, we see a system of interacting organs, a beast with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment.

What becomes clear from Assange’s essay – which strikes me as both profound and somewhat deranged – is that he knows exactly what he is doing, and why. He knows that a great many of the cables that WikiLeaks is now producing – and which are being so enthusiastically peddled by the mainstream media – are not in themselves evidence of what most of us would term wrongdoing. But to the extent that they are profoundly embarrassing, they will force the United States to change its communications system. The SIPRnet, which, inexplicably, allows a junior soldier in Iraq (and apparently some 3 million others) to access an ambassador’s appraisal of a prime minister, or the State Department’s concerns about Chinese weapons sales to Iran, will have to be changed; readership of documents restricted; security procedures tightened; secrets kept more secret. There will be a higher ‘cognitive secrecy tax’.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

This zunguzungu post on Assange’s motives is extremely important. He isn’t interested in preserving any current system; he quite radically wants to fundamentally change the capacity of governments he considers authoritarian to conspire in secret. He wants to bring everything out into the light and degrade their systems, as it were.

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Government is doing exactly what can be expected of it in reaction to this – forced to operate in secrecy, cut off from its fellow conspirators, it seeks to control the flow of information. That’s what’s at work in the attempt to arrest Assange and shut down his website. Governments need to be able to communicate with themselves, and Assange is breaking that down, or at least exposing it to scrutiny. So they want to crush the bug. The only entity that gets to have total information awareness is the state.

Robert Baird at 3 Quarks Daily:

Aaron Bady won the internet last week with his explication of a pair of essays Julian Assange wrote in 2006. Paddling against a vomit-tide of epithets and empty speculations that threatened to bury Assange under a flood of banalities, Bady proposed and executed a fairly shocking procedure: he sat down and read ten pages of what Assange had actually written about the motivations and strategy behind Wikileaks.

The central insight of Bady’s analysis was the recognition that Assange’s strategy stands at significant remove from a philosophy it might easily be confused for: the blend of technological triumphalism and anarcho-libertarian utopianism that takes “information wants to be free” as its gospel and Silicon Valley as its spiritual homeland. Noting the “certain vicious amorality about the Mark Zuckerberg-ian philosophy that all transparency is always and everywhere a good thing,” Bady argued that Assange’s philosophy is crucially different:

The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets.

As Assange told Time: “It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it’s our goal to achieve a more just society.”

In his essays Assange makes no bones about wanting to “radically shift regime behavior,” and this claim to radicalism marks one difference between Wikileaks and, say, the New York Times. As Bady notes, however, by far the more important distinction lies in the way Assange wants to use transparency to cause change. The traditional argument for transparency is that more information will allow a populace to better influence its government. In this scheme, freedom of the press, sunshine laws, and journalistic competition are all useful for prizing loose information that government actors don’t want us to see, but none of them are ends in themselves. The information they reveal is ever only propaedeutic: it needs advocacy, elections, armed uprisings, or some other activity to make real political change.

Certainly some of what Assange wants to do with Wikileaks can be explained by this model, but as Bady recognized, the 2006 essays propose a more unusual–and more interesting–reason for leaking. “Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms,” Bady explained, “precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more.” In this sense, the “nothing new to see here” posturing that followed the release of the cables in some quarters was not only something Assange had expected: it was a reaction whose anticipation led him to formulate a strategy that differed even from progressive/radical muckrakers like The Nation and Counterpunch.

[…]

Push this redescription a step further, and you can see that what Wikileaks is trying to do to international diplomacy is not so different from what the mortgage crisis did to the economy. The cable-dump is the diplomatic equivalent of Goldman Sachs’s famous ABACUS CDO, the one it designed to go bust.

If this sounds like sabotage, well, that’s sort of the point. But it’s important to remember that unlike ABACUS, Assange’s attempted sabotage of the diplomatic economy of secrets was planned with the explicit aim of ushering in a new and better system. His 2006 essays paint him as the opposite of a nihilist, someone with a radical’s distrust of reform. Like those Marxists who hoped they saw in the financial crisis the first stirrings of a new and more just economic age, Assange looks to the diplomatic rubble he’s created for the promise of a new paradigm of government behavior.

That Wikileaks will have real-world effects is indisputable; they’ve already begun to show themselves. The real question, now, is whether those effects will look anything like what Assange hoped for them in 2006.

The financial analogy gives us reason to be skeptical. By rights the mortgage meltdown should have wiped out half of Wall Street. And yet two years after the worst of it, the banks that caused the crisis are enjoying record profits while the rest of the economy foots the bill: 10% unemployment, frozen federal pay, broke state governments, etc., etc., ad nauseam. The lesson of the crisis was unequivocal: power doesn’t have to play by rights. The State Department of the United States, we can be sure, is quite aware of this.

There’s a deeper sense, however, in which Assange’s 2006 third-order strategy for Wikileaks has to count as naive. His belief that secrecy is the fundamental source of power is a version of the classic category mistake of the internet age: to imagine that the “world” of information simply is the world, that there is no remainder, nothing left to of the latter to overflow or exceed or resist the former. (The Language poets made a similar mistake in suggesting that a stylistic innovation in poetry was predictably convertible into real-world effects.)

In a recent interview at the Guardian, Assange seems aware of this problem, all but admitting that his earlier emphasis on secrecy doesn’t fit the reigning power structures of the West:

The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be ‘free’ because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.

This diagnosis strikes me as much closer to the mark than Assange’s earlier identification of government as fundamentally conspiratorial. But his earlier account at least had the virtue of justifying the leak of 250,000 secret diplomatic cables. Now the release seems freshly unexplained. After all, how, exactly, are publicized diplomatic cables supposed to affect the “web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on”? I don’t know, and I’m beginning to wonder if Julian Assange does either.

Charli Carpenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Here are my reactions. First of all both Bady and Baird, who seem in agreement about Assange’s “clearly articulated vision” and offer a very helpful analytical typology to situate his ethics in relation to others like Mark Z, both discount the inconsistencies with which he has articulated that vision. If Assange truly fit the “third-order” mold when he wrote those essays, his thinking today seems to draw on all three discourses to fit his audience and the moment. He has said third-order types of things, but he has also said on the Wikileaks site  “transparency creates a better society for all people” and that “all information should be free” (ala Zuckerberg); he has argued at times that his goal is reform, not revolution; and as Baird acknowledges in a footnote, Assange’s Time interview reflected the second-order position.

If he has a consistent position, I’m not sure even Assange knows what it is. And considering that he is using the nuclear threat of releasing his entire archive (presumably irrespective of any harm minimization tactics the organization would otherwise claim to employ) as a bargaining chip to deal with his legal troubles, I have a hard time agreeing with Bady’s claim that Assange always emphasizes ethics.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment about whether Assange’s 2006 essays provide a useful road-map to his current position or political behavior, and simply examine his writings. What surprises me most is that Bady, and to some extent Baird, seem to accept many of Assange’s central claims. Here are several I find very troubling – even moreso if they indeed tell us something about his current agenda.

1) Assange Discounts the Importance of Secrecy For Good Governors, and Overstates the Impact of Leaks on Bad Governors.

In a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

I have already spoken to the value of discretion in good governance here, a set of points which I think weighs against Assange’s assertion that if you care about discretion, you must have something to hide.

But even if this weren’t true – even if eliminating the ability for the state to think discreetly were definitely a public good – there is another problem with Assange’s worldview: he believes that leaks will serve this goal.

“We can deceive or blind a conspiracy by distorting or restricting the information available to it… if an authoritarian conspiracy that can not think efficiently, can not act to preserve itself against the opponents it induces…”

“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.”

I am actually unconvinced, for what digital leaks do is encourage the state to avoid leaving a digital paper-trail, not to stop communicating entirely. Links can mean many things besides leakable documents. And what we know from studying genuinely authoritarian states is that they can think quite easily and behave quite murderously without a paper trail of any sort. This is in fact what makes it so difficult to prosecute the crime of genocide.

Therefore, I would imagine, in fact, that massive leaks actually do the reverse: make it impossible for those organs of government most willing to document their activities, within certain boundaries of discretion, to function. The true conspiracies to commit atrocious acts will simply go offline. Transparency of the type that would meet Assange’s goals would require a massive reverse panopticon inflicted upon civil servants that could capture their non-written activities and speech acts as well. This doesn’t strike me as a libertarian ideology – any more than the notion that those who value privacy must be hiding something and deserve what they get.

2) Assange’s Uses the Terms “Authoritarian” and “Conspiracy” in a Sweeping and Circular Way. Relatedly, Assange seems not to understand or even acknowledge the difference between authoritarian governments and democratic governments: for him, authoritarian is less a descriptive term and more a pejorative – one in terms identical to those of any powerful agent:

Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self-realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial.

Note the circular reasoning. I guess my husband and are conspiring as “successful authoritarian powers” when we meet privately to discuss our differences on parenting strategies, because we know that airing those differences in the open will encourage resistance.

If you suppose that I am using the parenting analogy to blithely make a point, consider the examples of “conspiracies” that Assange himself uses in his papers: the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Now, Assange does define “conspiracy” as making “secret plans to commit a harmful act; working together to bring about a particular result, typically to someone’s detriment.” (In the second of his two essays, nearly identical to the original, he expands on the paragraph cited above with a modifier “working to the detriment of a population,” which suggests he realizes that it is only bad secrecy that is conspiratorial.)

But he does not define what to what kind of harm or detriment he refers, assuming (I gather) that to his readers it will be obvious. The consequence of this however is that just about anything and everything – families, firms, NGOs he doesn’t like, or entire political parties for example – could be labeled a conspiracy. He is also unable to distinguish the conspiratorial elements of large political groupings like parties or states from those elements attempting to bring about a positive result.

In short there is nothing in his essay that discusses the scope conditions for targeting a particular actor: presumably the fact that they are operating secretly and to someone’s dissatisfaction is enough to prove they are both authoritarian and conspiratorial.

Alexis Madrigal:

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Filed under Go Meta, New Media

Look, Children, It’s A Thing Spoke Of As Myth (An Actual Filibuster, Or Not)

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Jordan Fabian at The Hill:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is railing against President Obama’s tax-cut package in a lengthy floor speech.

Sanders, one of the Senate’s leading liberals, is protesting Obama’s deal with Republicans, which would extend tax cuts on all income that were initially signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.

Sanders began his speech on Friday at 10:24 a.m. and was still speaking at 5:31 p.m. Friday afternoon. He has threatened to filibuster the Obama-GOP deal when it is brought to the Senate floor next week.

“You can call what i am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech … ,” read a message posted on Sanders’s Twitter account after he’d taken to the rostrum.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Update: Sanders is into hour 8.

Update 2: They’re in hour 6

Update: It’s in its 5th hour, and Senator Sanders is talking again, after having handed the baton to Mary Landrieu.

Original post: The Bernie Sanders filibuster against the tax deal is now in its 4th hour, and currently Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has joined in. They’re railing against the deal, and in general inequality in America >

Just one thought: This is a disaster for Obama.

It’s the first time we can recall that something happening on the liberal side is getting people excited — #filibernie is a hot topic on Twitter right now — and Obama isn’t part of it. In fact, he’s against it.

Allah Pundit:

You’ll be pleased to know that, in his frantic search for subject matter to keep him going, he’s already somehow detoured into chatting about Arianna Huffington. If that’s where he’s at in hour six, lord only knows where he’ll be in hour twelve. Reading aloud from “Jersey Shore” transcripts, probably.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Regardless of the merits of Mr. Sanders’ position on the bill, this is my favored brand of filibuster-reform: make Senators actually do it. You’d retain the Senate’s best counter-majoritarian feature but see it reserved only for the most important measures.

Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:

It’s a filibuster as filibusters were originally intended — and, as such, makes a mockery of what the filibuster’s become: a gimmick that allows a minority of senators to quietly impose supermajority requirements on any piece of legislation.

Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America. “How can I get by on one house?” Sanders railed, sarcastically. “I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the power.”

As a result of his efforts, he’s shot up to near the top Twitter trending topic chart. Filibusters like these were much more common decades ago, before the rules changed and Senators could really run out the clock by holding the floor and talking and talking without pause. Things are different today — and, whatever Sanders does, the Senate isn’t scheduled to hold any votes until Monday, so its practical effects may not amount to much.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

It’s not a filibuster. Not unless he holds the floor until at least Monday and beyond.

There’s a set vote on the tax cut bill on Monday. Nothing else has been scheduled to move today. Bernie is not really blocking anything. This puts Sanders’ speech into the Congressional record; I’m not sure there’s an additional purpose.

But that’s not to say it isn’t important. Sanders is calling attention to the massive inequality in America, which will only be stratified further by a tax cut bill that raises taxes from current law for 25 million low-income workers and gives millionaires a tax cut of about $139,000 a person. He’s explaining America’s insane trade policies, which have cut out the American manufacturing base and hollowed out the middle class. He’s taking on corporate CEO pay, and the two-income trap, and basically making the progressive critique of an economy bought and paid for by the very rich.

What’s more, he’s picked up support, not only from usual suspects by Sherrod Brown but from conservative Democrat Mary Landrieu, who acknowledged she doesn’t always agree with her colleague but said that he has “done his homework” about the tax cut deal. After slamming the deal as unfair to the poor and to minorities and giving a very cogent argument about inequality, Landrieu hilariously concluded by saying she might vote for the bill, but she’d be “loud” about it. Nevertheless, you’re seeing issues discussed on the Senate floor that almost never come up in any other context. Political theater is sadly one of the few ways to cut through the clutter in America, and that’s what Sanders is up to, I suspect.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

His epic rant — perhaps one of the most extraordinary critiques of how the American economy has been managed over the last several decades delivered in living memory — is an endless sequence of connecting the dots from one outrage to another. Even as I wrote this paragraph, he segued effortlessly from trade policy to Wall Street.

“But it is not just a disastrous trade policy that has brought us where we are today. The immediate cause of this crisis, and it gets me just sick talking about it … is what the crooks on Wall Street have done to the American people.”

Sanders then delivers a capsule history of deregulation, blasts Alan Greenspan, notes that in the late ’90s he had predicted everything that ultimately happened, but failed to rally legislative support to stop the runaway train — “and the rest is, unfortunately, history.”

From there, a class warfare sideswipe: “Understand, that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street — you can do pretty much anything you want and get away it.”

“And what they did to the American people is so horrible.”

On to the bailout! His scorn is so caustic it could disintegrate an aircraft carrier: “We bailed these guys out because they were too big to fail, and now three of the four largest banks  are now even larger. ”

As Sanders’ great oration enters its seventh hour, it is, by its very nature, impossible to summarize. It is a ramble, a rant, a critique, a cry of rage, a wail of despair, and a call to action. And it is amazing. I’ve heard stories of filibusters in which senators read phone books. And I’ve watched with disgust as for years Republicans have merely threatened to filibuster, without ever actually being forced to exercise their vocal cords. But here is Bernie Sanders, seven hours in, calling for the biggest banks to be broken up, voice still hale and hearty, and looking like he could easily go another seven hours.

Give credit to the citizens of Vermont, who know how to elect someone not afraid of speaking truth to power.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Bernie Sanders all-day speech on the Senate floor has ended after about 8 1/2 hours.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, Political Figures