Archive for February 1st, 2010
For the past month, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has been blocking the appointment of several of President Obama’s judicial nominees from Louisiana as part of “a two-year battle” with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). [Vitter is the family-values Senator who favors prostitutes. – LG] Vitter has said that he would stall the nominees until he was assured that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s renomination was assured. The Times-Picayune reports that Vitter will sign the “blue slips” for several nominees now that Letten has been appointed to a key advisory panel in the Justice Department:
“This prestigious appointment makes it crystal clear that Jim isn’t going anywhere except on regular trips to Washington to personally advise the attorney general,” Vitter, R-La., said. “The attorney general and I superficially discussed this in our meeting last Thursday and I’m really excited to get it done.”
Vitter said he now plans to sign the blue slips for Obama’s criminal justice nominees. The slips are required from the senators in the home states of prosecutors, judges and U.S. marshals before the Senate Judiciary Committee will schedule confirmation hearings.
Letten is being appointed to the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys. The panel, consisting of selected U.S. attorneys, provides advice and counsel to the attorney general on policy, management and operational issues impacting federal prosecutors. The panel was formed in 1973.
Nominees that were stalled by Vitter include “Genny May, a 31-year-officer with the Louisiana State Police, as U.S. marshal in New Orleans; Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris to fill a federal judgeship in New Orleans; New Orleans attorney Brian Jackson as a federal judge in the Middle District in Baton Rouge; and Stephanie Finley as U.S. Attorney in Shreveport.” If Finley is confirmed, she would take over for acting U.S. Attorney William J. Flanagan, whose son Robert was recently arrested for entering Landrieu’s office under false pretenses in an alleged phone-tampering scheme.
I’m reading Fatal System Error, about the industrialization of cybercrime and the laggard response from governments. And so I went to pay on my Dell account on-line, but I cannot get to that page: the browser just hangs indefinitely. Aha, I now think, a DDoS attack (distributed denial of service)—an army of tens of thousands of hijacked home computers suddenly swing into action as the worm they swallowed is activated.
And probably Dell will have to pay, and of course will not publicize.
If that’s what’s happening.
For the first time, the Pentagon’s primary planning document addresses the threat of global warming, noting that it will accelerate instability and conflict around the globe. Former Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) added language requiring the department to consider the effects of climate change on its facilities, capabilities, and missions to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review, officially released today, discusses the department’s “strategic approach to climate and energy”:
Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment. Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked. The actions that the Department takes now can prepare us to respond effectively to these challenges in the near term and in the future.
The QDR notes that climate change affects the Department of Defense “in two broad ways”: first, global warming impacts and disasters will “act as an accelerant of instability or conflict,” and second, military installations and forces around the globe will have to adapt to rising seas, increased extreme weather, and other effects of global warming:
Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration. While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.
The military is working on not just responding to the impacts of global warming, but also mitigating the threat by reducing global warming emissions. Increased use of renewable energy and energy efficiency not only lessens the military’s enormous carbon footprint, but also delivers immediate security benefits:
Energy efficiency can serve as a force multiplier, because it increases the range and endurance of forces in the field and can reduce the number of combat forces diverted to protect energy supply lines, which are vulnerable to both asymmetric and conventional attacks and disruptions.
The military’s overall agenda is backed up by specific action. In line with President Obama’s executive order to devise a greenhouse pollution reduction plan, the Department of Defense has committed to cutting emissions from its non-combat facilities by 34 percent by 2020. The Air Force, long dependent on billions of gallons of imported oil, is investing deeply in all forms of renewable energy. The Army is making major investments in battery technology, renewable energy, and electric drive vehicles.
As Vice President Gore has noted repeatedly, the “climate crisis, the security crisis and the economic crisis have a common thread” — our dependence on fossil fuels. If we continue the status quo, threats will continue to multiply on every front — a fact our military, if not our politicians now in the Senate, now recognizes.
Wall St Consultant Frank Luntz Pens Memo On How To Channel Economic Anxiety Into Protecting Wall St Abuses
Last Saturday, at the lobbyist-organized GOP retreat, President Obama called out GOP strategist Frank Luntz for pursuing tactics meant to simply “box in Obama” rather than pursue substantive policy debate. True to form, Luntz has released a new memo — obtained by the Huffington Post — which lays out the arguments and language Republicans should use to kill financial reform. Luntz, who gained national recognition for his role in shaping the buzzword-heavy Contract for America with Newt Gingrich in 1994, has built a sizable business selling his messaging advice to both corporations and Republican campaigns.
The new memo instructs opponents of financial reform to simply lie about reform legislation, and to twist economic anxiety resulting from the recession into fear of any government effort to fix the underlying cause of the financial crisis. The most dishonest argument is that financial reform would “punish” taxpayers while rewarding “big banks and credit card companies.” In reality, top financial industry lobbyists are not only fighting proposed oversight regulations, but have said recently that they are opposed to “any regulation” at all.
Luntz, ever the publicity hound, leaks his memos out to the media to claim credit for the Republican charge against reforming Wall Street. While he is certainly a driving force behind much of the GOP misinformation, a closer look at his client list reveals that he is in fact being paid by the finance industry:
– Luntz client Ameriquest Mortgages: The proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) would eliminate predatory mortgages. Ameriquest, America’s “sub-prime leader,” has been prosecuted by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for inflating property values so borrowers could get bigger loans, imposing upfront fees without reducing interest rates as promised, and intentionally deceiving lenders with hidden penalties and interest rates on final loan documents.
– Luntz clients Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns: Under proposed financial reform, big banks, like Luntz clients Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, would face a new structure designed to police financial products, prohibit predatory ones, and require clear forms and disclosures. The CFPA would also help regulate hidden bank fees and other bank abuses.
– Luntz client American Express: The CFPA would regulate the credit card industry, preventing predatory interest rates and fees.
Nearly every attack recommended by Luntz is not grounded in reality. For instance, he calls for opponents of reform to label a CFPA head an “unaccountable” “czar.” But the legislation clearly states that the CFPA’s Director would be appointed by the President, and then confirmed by the Senate. Luntz also charges that reform advocates are behind “lobbyist loopholes” in the bill. However, the most controversial loophole was inserted by Rep. John Campbell (R-CA), whose amendment allows an exemption for auto dealers. Of course, Campbell still tried to kill financial reform once it arrived on the House floor.
Confusing the public is the point of Luntz’s work. In an interview explaining his smears against health reform, Luntz told the New York Times last year that it did not matter what the actual policy offered — he would still call it a “Washington takeover.”
Since the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day, Congress and the Obama administration have reviewed many aspects of aviation security, and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, has called for increasing the number of federal air marshals.
But one area that hasn’t received much scrutiny is the atmosphere inside the Federal Air Marshal Service, where some in the rank and file say discrimination and retaliation distracts them from their mission of stopping terrorists and protecting passengers. Air marshals have long whispered about their complaints, but now two recent cases are bringing public attention to the issue.
The Transportation Security Administration, the parent agency of the air marshal service, is investigating allegations of discrimination in the Orlando field office after several air marshals complained that supervisors created a "Jeopardy"-style game board with derogatory nicknames for African-Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals and veterans as a way to mete out discipline and undesirable assignments.
In Cincinnati, an attorney representing six air marshals asked a federal judge for a restraining order against TSA on Jan. 12. He said supervisors opened a disciplinary investigation against one client after she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit (PDF) and then intimidated witnesses as they prepared to testify on the woman’s behalf.
ProPublica has interviewed or obtained complaints from 85 current and former air marshals in nearly every one of the agency’s 21 field offices over the past year and half. They all told similar stories of being treated unfairly in promotions, assignments or discipline by supervisors who target those who speak up or don’t fit a certain mold. Some air marshals who tried to address their complaints through proper channels say they felt demoralized by the process…
When you think of a prototypically corrupt U.S. Senator, you might think of Claude Rains’s portrayal of Joseph Paine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But Senator Paine was beholden to a political machine, not an industry. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, on the other hand, is so in hock to the energy industry that he opposes any legislation whatsoever that would regulate climate changing emissions. He’s angry that the CIA is documenting evidence of climate change, and now he’s angry that the Securities Exchange Commission has told companies to "disclose information on climate-related risks and opportunities."
“We ought to be talking about jobs, the economy and national security. The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to protect investors. They’re the people that completely missed Bernie Madoff,” added Barrasso, a leading Senate opponent of climate rules and legislation.
Of course, the SEC is protecting investors. For example, proposed cap and trade legislation could hurt some companies’ bottom lines. Investors deserve to know that. The same legislation could present unique opportunities for other companies. Investors deserve that information, too. But that is really beside the point. Senator Barrasso doesn’t like the SEC guidance because it encourages businesses to use less energy and to invest in alternative energy research and development. His top contributor is Foundation Coal, which is now merged with Alpha Natural Resources. Wyoming is a cheap state and Barrasso wasn’t seriously challenged in his 2008 election. But he still raised over $200,000 for his campaign from Oil, Gas, and Mining interests. Those interests own him.
Why would any senator want investors to have less information, or not want the CIA to convey intelligence they’ve learned about climate change, or want dirtier air and water? No one would want any of those things unless something was desperately wrong with them. In Barrasso’s case, it’s easy to diagnose the problem. In fact, the same is basically true for all Republican senators and at least a fifth of the Democrats.
Interesting piece on the accomplishments to date in the current Congress. Norman Ornstein in the Washington Post:
When President Obama urged lawmakers during his State of the Union speech to work with him on "restoring the public trust," he was hardly going out on a limb. The Congress he was addressing is one of the least popular in decades. Barely a quarter of Americans approve of the job it’s doing, according to the latest Gallup/USA Today poll, while 58 percent said it was below average or one of the worst ever, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey last month.
It’s not hard to find reasons why Americans are down on Capitol Hill, and why President Obama’s approval rating has dropped below 50 percent in many polls. A year into the 111th Congress, unemployment remains at 10 percent, and many Americans are struggling to get by — even as they’ve watched Congress bail out banks and coddle the same bankers now salivating over massive new bonuses. At the same time, the public has had a front-row seat to the always messy legislative process on health care and other issues, and this past year that process has been messier, more rancorous and more partisan than at any point in modern memory.
There seems to be little to endear citizens to their legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It’s too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, this Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.
The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was far more than an injection of $787 billion in government spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-third of it — $288 billion — came in the form of tax cuts, making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy production as well as home-buying and college tuition. The stimulus also promised $19 billion for the critical policy arena of health-information technology, and more than $1 billion to advance research on the effectiveness of health-care treatments.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school districts across the country. There were also massive investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access.
Any Congress that passed all these items separately would be considered enormously productive. Instead, this Congress did it in one bill. Lawmakers then added to their record by expanding children’s health insurance and providing stiff oversight of the TARP funds allocated by the previous Congress. Other accomplishments included a law to allow the FDA to regulate tobacco, the largest land conservation law in nearly two decades, a credit card holders’ bill of rights and defense procurement reform.
The House, of course, did much more, including …