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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Another way business takes over the government

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It burrows inside, like the trichinosis parasite into muscle. Read this op-ed in the NY Times by Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader:

WHEN regulators sleep and auto companies place profits over safety, safety defects pile up. A record number of vehicles — more than 50 million — have been recalled this year, a result of congressional hearings and Justice Department prosecutions, which exposed a mass of deadly defects that the auto industry had concealed.

From the Ford Explorer rollovers in the 1990s and Toyotas’ issue with unintended acceleration in the 2000s to the recent fatal consequences of defective General Motors ignition switches and Takata airbags, the auto companies hid defects to avoid recalls and save money. These and other major defects were first exposed by safety advocates who petitioned the government and by reporters in the tradition of Bob Irvin of The Detroit News, who wrote over 35 articles on Chevrolet engine mounts until General Motors agreed to recall 6.7 million vehicles in 1971.

These campaigners did the job the regulator should have done. Congress gave the Department of Transportation authority to regulate the auto industry through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — including subpoena authority to find defects. But it used this authority so infrequently after the ’70s that its acting administrator, David J. Friedman, told Congress this year that he didn’t even know it had the power. The N.H.T.S.A. also failed to require companies to disclose death-claim records in civil lawsuits over the Toyota accelerations, G.M. ignition switches and Takata airbags.

In order to prevent the risk of death or serious injury, Congress empowered the agency to oblige auto companies to use alternate suppliers and independent repair shops to manufacture parts and make repairs to expedite a recall fix. Yet the N.H.T.S.A. has never used this authority — even though it took General Motors from February to October to get enough parts to dealers to repair all the recalled ignition switches.

Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company. The agency’s attitude, in short, was: Don’t bother us with the facts.

More facts did come out when BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota recalled millions of Takata airbags from 2010 to 2013. Still, the N.H.T.S.A. opened no investigations and ordered no recalls on the airbags. Honda also failed to disclose death and injury claims on Takata airbags, as required by law. Even now — after reports of a third death in the United States associated with the airbags — the N.H.T.S.A. refuses to order a national recall, as Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have urged.

What explains this neglect? Over time, the N.H.T.S.A. has been captured by the industry it regulates. Through the ’70s, it aggressively litigated cases to force recalls, and it caught most defects early in the life of a vehicle. Beginning in the ’80s, however, numerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.

What’s more, the agency is heavily populated by former industry employees. Ms. Glassman, for example, had been a lawyer for Chrysler before working at the agency (and is now at a law firm that represents auto companies). The agency’s last non-acting administrator, Mr. Strickland, went to work in January of 2014 for a firm representing Chrysler — the same month the agency approved an inadequate recall of Chrysler Jeeps with fuel tanks liable to explode as a result of rear impacts.

Although Congress has given the N.H.T.S.A. regulatory tools that the agency failed to use, Congress has not given it the two things it needs most: sufficient funding, and the power to bring criminal penalties against auto companies. . .

Continue reading.

Or, Koch brothers fashion, like this in Texas. Worth the click—unbelievable, except unfortunately not.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:44 pm

Why Does the U.S. Senate Need a Petition Drive to Hold Hearings on the Secret Goldman Sachs’ Tapes

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A very good question, amplified in Wall Street on Parade by Pam Martens:

It appears that Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown believe they may have a battle on their hands getting their colleagues on the Senate Banking Committee to agree to hold hearings on the now notorious tape recordings secretly made by former New York Fed bank examiner, Carmen Segarra, showing a cozy relationship between the regulator and Goldman Sachs.

Petitions have sprung up all over the internet, with more than 129,000 signatures as of this morning, demanding that Congress hold hearings to investigate whether the Federal Reserve System, and specifically the New York Fed, function as merely sycophantic fronts for Wall Street or if they serve any meaningful regulatory role.

In addition to petitions at Credo, MoveOn.org and Public Citizen, campaign sites for Senators Warren and Brown have also set up petitions, but those sites do not show how many signatures have been collected.

As of this morning, the Credo petition had 98,107 signatures out of a goal of 150,000. You can sign the petition here. The petition makes its case as follows: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 1:25 pm

Mission creep toward a police state: The Patriot Act grows…

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Radley Balko writes at the Washington Post:

One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.

Civil libertarian critics warned that the federal government already had this power for national security investigations. The Patriot Act provision was far too broad and would almost certainly become a common tactic in cases that have nothing to do with national security.

But this was all immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and there was little patience for civil libertarians. The massive Patriot Act of course passed overwhelmingly, including the sneak-and-peek provision, despite the fact that only a handful of members of Congress had actually read it. (Not to mention the public.)

More than a decade later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an analysis on use of the sneak-and-peek power. Just as critics predicted, it’s now a ubiquitous part of federal law enforcement.

Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003. The 2010 report reveals 3,970 total requests were processed. Within three years that number jumped to 11,129. That’s an increase of over 7,000 requests. Exactly what privacy advocates argued in 2001 is happening: sneak and peak warrants are not just being used in exceptional circumstances—which was their original intent—but as an everyday investigative tool.

And as critics predicted, it is overwhelmingly used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. But even if you’re a cynic, it’s pretty shocking just how little the power is used in terrorism investigations.

Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

So since the Patriot Act passed, the number of of sneak-and-peeks each year has grown from about 16 per year to over 11,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, not only have the number of sneak-and-peek investigations unrelated to terrorism increased on a massive scale, the percentage of sneak-and-peeks that have anything to do with terrorism continues to drop. In other words, sneak-and-peek is increasingly ubiquitous while the justification for granting the government this power in the first place — terrorism — is not only irrelevant to the tactic’s increasing pervasiveness, it gets more irrelevant every year.

Lots of lessons here. A few that immediately come to mind: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:48 am

Trying to rein in NSA when NSA is determined not to be reined in

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Kevin Drum has a good post this morning:

Sen. Patrick Leahy says that his USA FREEDOM bill will stop the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data. H.L. Pohlman says it’s not quite that easy:

In Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-28) issued in January 2014, the Obama administration defined “bulk collection” as the acquisition “of large quantities of signals intelligence data which . . . is acquired without the use of discriminants (e.g., specific identifiers, selection terms, etc.).” Thus, as long as the government uses a “discriminant,” a selection term, no matter how broad that term might be, the government is not engaged in a “bulk collection” program.

….The USA FREEDOM Act does not guarantee, then, that the government’s database of telephone metadata will be smaller than it is now. It all depends on the generality of the selection terms that the government will use to obtain metadata from the telephone companies. And we don’t know what those terms will be.

This is a longstanding issue that’s been brought up by lots of people lots of times. It’s not some minor subtlety. If the government decides to look for “all calls from the 213 area code,” that’s not necessarily bulk collection even though it would amass millions of records. It would be up to a judge to decide.

If and when we get close to Congress actually considering bills to rein in the NSA—about which I’m only modestly optimistic in the first place—this is going to be a key thing to keep an eye on. As the ACLU and the EFF and others keep reminding us, reining in the NSA isn’t a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:14 am

Only 1/2 of 1% of “Patriot” Act Secret Warrants Used against Terrorism

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Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation posts at Informed Comment:

The Patriot Act continues to wreak its havoc on civil liberties. Section 213 was included in the Patriot Act over the protests of privacy advocates and granted law enforcement the power to conduct a search while delaying notice to the suspect of the search. Known as a “sneak and peek” warrant, law enforcement was adamant Section 213 was needed to protect against terrorism. But the latest government report detailing the numbers of “sneak and peek” warrants reveals that out of a total of over 11,000 sneak and peek requests, only 51 were used for terrorism. Yet again, terrorism concerns appear to be trampling our civil liberties.

Throughout the Patriot Act debate the Department of Justice urgedCongress to pass Section 213 because it needed the sneak and peak power to help investigate and prosecute terrorism crimes “without tipping off terrorists.” In 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller continued the same exact talking point, emphasizing sneak and peek warrants were “an invaluable tool in the war on terror and our efforts to combat serious criminal conduct.”

A closer look at the number of sneak and peek warrants issued (a reporting requirement imposed by Congress) shows this is simply not the case. The last publicly available report about sneak and peek warrants was released in 2010; however, the Administrative Office of the US Courts has finally released reports from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

What do the reports reveal? Two things: 1) there has been an enormous increase in the use of sneak and peek warrants and 2) they are rarely used for terrorism cases.

First, the numbers: Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003. The 2010 report reveals 3,970 total requests were processed. Within three years that number jumped to 11,129. That’s an increase of over 7,000 requests. Exactly what privacy advocates argued in 2001 is happening: sneak and peak warrants are not just being used in exceptional circumstances—which was their original intent—but as an everyday investigative tool.

Second, the uses: Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

Section 213 may be less known than Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the clause the government is currently using to collect your phone records), but it’s just as important. The Supreme Court ruled in Wilson v. Arkansasand Richards v. Wisconsin that the Fourth Amendment requires police to generally “knock and announce” their entry into property as a means of notifying a homeowner of a search. The idea was to give the owner an opportunity to assert their Fourth Amendment rights. The court also explained that the rule could give way in situations where evidence was under threat of destruction or there were concerns for officer safety. Section 213 codified this practice into statute, taking delayed notice from a relatively rare occurrence into standard operating law enforcement procedure.

The numbers vindicate privacy advocates who urged Congress to shelve Section 213 during the Patriot Act debates. Proponents of Section 213 claimed sneak and peek warrants were needed to protect against terrorism. But just like we’ve seen elsewhere, these claims are false. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2014 at 9:03 am

Court’s Mistake Helps Draw Back the Curtain on Dark Money

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Sara Azfal writes in ProPublica:

When it comes to politics, the actions of social welfare nonprofits are usually hard to track. And unlike political action committees, these “dark money” groups can channel money to influence elections without naming their donors.

But as ProPublica’s Theo Meyer explains in this week’s podcast, an accidentally released court filing revealed how a mining company known as the Cline Group used dark money groups to help pass a law that would speed up Wisconsin’s mining permit process.

Meyer describes the release as a “fluke” — a federal court in Chicago mistakenly posted the legal document online for a few hours — that provided a rare look behind the scenes: In 2011 and 2012, the mining company had secretly given $700,000 to a conservative nonprofit that worked to pass the bill.

“For once we actually know something about how the money was spent and where it came from,” says ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg.

Meyer agrees. “This is really just one of a handful of instances in which donors to groups like this have become public,” Meyer explains. “And unless you have subpoena power and can get bank records from these groups, it’s really impossible to see who is funding the effort.” . . .

Here’s the podcast. And here are some related stories:

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2014 at 6:32 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Election, GOP, Law

Ideology and Investment

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Paul Krugman discusses why the US no longer invests in its own future:

America used to be a country that built for the future. Sometimes the government built directly: Public projects, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, provided the backbone for economic growth. Sometimes it provided incentives to the private sector, like land grants to spur railroad construction. Either way, there was broad support for spending that would make us richer.

But nowadays we simply won’t invest, even when the need is obvious and the timing couldn’t be better. And don’t tell me that the problem is “political dysfunction” or some other weasel phrase that diffuses the blame. Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with “Washington”; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

Some background: More than seven years have passed since the housing bubble burst, and ever since, America has been awash in savings — or more accurately, desired savings — with nowhere to go. Borrowing to buy homes has recovered a bit, but remains low. Corporations are earning huge profits, but are reluctant to invest in the face of weak consumer demand, so they’re accumulating cash or buying back their own stock. Banks are holding almost $2.7 trillion in excess reserves — funds they could lend out, but choose instead to leave idle.

And the mismatch between desired saving and the willingness to invest has kept the economy depressed. Remember, your spending is my income and my spending is your income, so if everyone tries to spend less at the same time, everyone’s income falls.

There’s an obvious policy response to this situation: public investment. We have huge infrastructure needs, especially in water and transportation, and the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply — in fact, interest rates on inflation-protected bonds have been negative much of the time (they’re currently just 0.4 percent). So borrowing to build roads, repair sewers and more seems like a no-brainer. But what has actually happened is the reverse. After briefly rising after the Obama stimulus went into effect,public construction spending has plunged. Why?

In a direct sense, much of the fall in public investment reflects the fiscal troubles of state and local governments, which account for the great bulk of public investment.

These governments generally must, by law, balance their budgets, but they saw revenues plunge and some expenses rise in a depressed economy. So they delayed or canceled a lot of construction to save cash.

Yet this didn’t have to happen. The federal government could easily have provided aid to the states to help them spend — in fact, the stimulus bill included such aid, which was one main reason public investment briefly increased. But once the G.O.P. took control of the House, any chance of more money for infrastructure vanished. Once in a while Republicans would talk about wanting to spend more, but they blocked every Obama administration initiative.

And it’s all about ideology, an overwhelming hostility to government spending of any kind. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2014 at 8:37 pm

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