Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) remembers some coffee he drank on a plane.
Update: Midway through writing this post, I learned that House Republicans had reversed course and decided to strike the Goodlatte Amendment from their rules changes. As of this writing, the OCE will remain the same. I stand by the Close Reading.
Yesterday, over the objections of Speaker Paul Ryan, the House Republican Conference voted to curtail the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics and bring it under control of the House Ethics Committee. The change was not debated and only publicly announced late Monday afternoon—to almost universal condemnation, including from president-elect Donald Trump. You can see why he objected. If your promise is to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption, weakening the office of ethics on the day before the new Congress starts is a bad look. But what if restricting the authority of the OCE to investigate, making its findings secret, and making it subject to a partisan committee actually strengthened it? You could convince people that’s what you were doing, if you framed it just right. Or you could just erect a wall of bullshit to hide behind. Rep. Bob Goodlatte went with option two in his statement on the change, which is the subject of today’s Close Reading.
Facebook’s sorting algorithm
Before you freak out, that 29% figure is not scientific. It’s from research conducted by the Washington Post’s Tom Herrera, who last summer counted all the posts his Facebook friends produced in a 24-hour period and cross-referenced them with what appeared in his News Feed. No one outside Facebook knows how the News Feed algorithm actually works, since gaming it is a multimillion-dollar industry. But the old Facebook, where you friended people and then saw everything they shared on a homepage, has been defunct since 2008. The new Facebook tracks your behavior on the site and customizes your News Feed to show you only what you really care about—in my case, baby pictures and articles about catcalling.
The New York Times announced today that, contrary to earlier assurances from the executive branch, the NSA is looking at the contents of large numbers of Americans’ emails. Don’t worry, though: they’re only looking at emails and text messages that originate or are received overseas, and they’re only searching for information related to specific targets. The word “target” appears in an alarming number of reassurances about this program. While we’re trusting implicitly the institutional structures of America, there’s also this paragraph from the Times report:
Hints of the surveillance appeared in a set of rules, leaked by Mr. Snowden, for how the N.S.A. may carry out the 2008 FISA law. One paragraph mentions that the agency “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.” The pages were posted online by the newspaper The Guardian on June 20, but the telltale paragraph, the only rule marked “Top Secret” amid 18 pages of restrictions, went largely overlooked amid other disclosures.
Which is understandable, because why would journalists notice the one marked “Top Secret?”