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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

John Brennan thinks he can blow Congress off—probably because Obama allows him to

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Obama seems less and less in control of his administration. John Brennan has now gone rogue, essentially flipping off Congress by refusing to provide them the information they request. He does not seem to realize that Congress is really the boss: the President reports to Congress (quite literally, in the State of the Union report, which is required), though the Constitution does give each branch of government some independence from the others. But just as Congress must heed judicial decisions, the head of the CIA must provide information that Congress requests—particularly when he’s being asked about an illegal intrusion into Congressional computers done by CIA personnel. It’s quite possible that he is refusing to provide the information because he himself is implicated.

And Obama? Obama does nothing. Obama seems to be waiting until this term is over, and until then, he is not going to get involved in anything so messy as governing. (This is not to say that Congress is doing much of a job: they are pretty much nonproductive these days. But that does not excuse Obama’s lack of involvement.)

Ali Watkins reports for McClatchy:

Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program.

The confrontation, which took place during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, came as the sides continue to spar over the report’s public release, providing further proof of the unprecedented deterioration in relations between the CIA and Capitol Hill.

After the meeting, several senators were so incensed at Brennan that they confirmed the row and all but accused the nation’s top spy of defying Congress.

“I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.”

“I continue to be incredibly frustrated with this director,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “He does not respect the role of the committee in providing oversight, and he continues to stonewall us on basic information, and it’s very frustrating. And it certainly doesn’t serve the agency well.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he was “renewing my call” for Brennan’s resignation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2014 at 11:43 am

What it looks like when a government agency fails in its mission

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Many government agencies have been so underfunded and so subjected to industry manipulation that they are no longer even pretending to fulfill their responsibilities to the public. One of these, as Hilary Stout, Danielle Ivory, and Rebecca Ruiz point out in the NY Times, is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

General Motors published an article in February on its Chevrolet website trumpeting an achievement certain to help sell a lot of cars.

Its 2014 Chevys had earned more five-star overall safety ratings in a new car assessment program than had any other brand.

The next day, G.M. began recalling millions of its cars for a deadly ignition defect, and by August, six of the eight five-star Chevrolet models had been recalled for a variety of safety issues, including defects in air bags, brakes and steering. Five had been recalled multiple times.

It was an embarrassing turn — but not just for the embattled automaker. The stellar rankings had been awarded by the federal regulatory agency that is mandated by Congress to ensure the safety of automobiles.

The agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has a record of missteps that goes well beyond its failure to detect an ignition switch defect in several models of G.M. cars now linked to at least 13 deaths.

An investigation by The New York Times into the agency’s handling of major safety defects over the past decade found that it frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies.

The Times analyzed agency correspondence, regulatory documents and public databases and interviewed congressional and executive branch investigators, former agency employees and auto safety experts. It found that in many of the major vehicle safety issues of recent years — including unintended acceleration in Toyotas, fires in Jeep fuel tanks and air bag ruptures in Hondas, as well as the G.M. ignition defect — the agency did not take a leading role until well after the problems had reached a crisis level, safety advocates had sounded alarms and motorists were injured or died.

Not only does the agency spend about as much money rating new cars — a favorite marketing tool for automakers — as it does investigating potentially deadly manufacturing defects, but it also has been so deferential to automakers that it made a key question it poses about fatal accidents optional — a policy it is only now changing after inquiries from The Times.

Jean Bookout was injured, and her passenger, Barbara Schwarz, was killed in 2007 when the 2005 Toyota Camry Ms. Bookout was driving in Oklahoma suddenly accelerated through an intersection and hit an embankment. When the safety agency inquired about the cause of the accident in 2010, the Japanese automaker replied, “Toyota understands that this request is optional and respectfully declines to respond at this time.”

Three years later, Toyota paid $3 million in compensatory damages after having been found guilty in a lawsuit the two women’s families brought against the company. And in March, a federal judge approved a $1.2 billion settlement of criminal charges that Toyota concealed unintended acceleration problems in its vehicles for years.

By the time General Motors began recalling cars this year for ignition defects that could cause stalling, the agency had logged more than 2,000 complaints about the issue in the recalled models, some from consumers who had picked up on patterns in the agency’s database that its own investigators missed or did not look for.

After Chrysler balked last year at the regulator’s suggested 2.7 million vehicle recall for exploding fuel tanks in its Jeeps, the federal agency scaled back its request by 1.1 million cars. It also agreed to Chrysler’s demand that the automaker not be required to say the vehicles had a safety defect or that the automaker was at fault. The agency has linked 51 deaths and at least two serious injuries to the defect over 14 years.

And four years ago, the agency cut short an investigation into rupturing air bags in Honda vehicles, saying there was “insufficient information” to suggest that the companies had failed to take timely action. Since then, more than 13 million more cars have been recalled by Honda and 10 other automakers for the rupture risk, and Honda has linked two deaths to the defect.

The agency declined to make regulators available for interviews, agreeing only to reply to written questions. [A dead giveaway: They are not only failing to do their jobs, they know they are failing to do their jobs. - LG]

Continue reading.

Will Obama do anything about this?   (Just joking: of course not.)

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2014 at 11:08 am

Jamie Dimon Gets $8.5 Million Raise for Illegal Conduct at JPMorgan

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens have an excellent column on a recent Senate hearing in which Federal regulators (SEC et al.) are taken over the coals for doing a bad job. Obama has been a failure in dealing with the financial community—it seems as though he has no interest at all in the matter, and he has appointed poor regulators and done nothing (so far as we know) to get them to do their jobs: appoint and ignore. He seems to have lost interest somewhere along the way.

Their article in Wall Street on Parade begins:

Sparks were flying yesterday in what is typically a snooze-worthy Senate session. It felt like alien body snatchers had decided to remove the zombies and return the real U.S. Senators to their chairs on the Senate Banking Committee. Senators, right and left, asked tough, probing questions of the nation’s banking regulators, leaving many squirming in their chairs.

The session was so unusual that Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, closed out the session in complete agreement that there is something seriously broken about the justice system in America.

Senator Warren told the hearing that in the past year, three of the nation’s largest banks — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America — have admitted breaking the law and settled the claims for $35 billion. The Senator continued:

“As Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York has noted, the law on this is clear. No corporation can break the law unless an individual within that corporation broke the law. Yet, despite the misconduct at these banks that generated tens of billions of dollars in settlement payments by the companies, not a single senior executive at these banks has been criminally prosecuted. Now, I know that your agencies can’t bring prosecutions directly, but you’re supposed to refer cases to the Justice Department when you think individuals should be prosecuted. So, can you tell me how many senior executives at these three banks you have referred to the Justice Department for prosecution?”

Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said he didn’t know the answer to the question. Senator Warren leaned forward in her chair to stare at Tarullo, incredulous at his answer. Warren then described the stark difference between this era and what happened after the savings and loan crisis, stating:

“After the savings and loan crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, the government brought over a thousand criminal prosecutions and got over 800 convictions. The FBI opened nearly 5,500 criminal investigations because of referrals from banking investigators and regulators.

“The main reason we punish illegal behavior is for deterrence; to make sure that the next banker who’s thinking about breaking the law remembers that a guy down the hall was hauled out of here in handcuffs when he did that. These civil settlements don’t provide deterrence. The shareholders for the company pay the settlement; senior management doesn’t pay a dime. And, in fact, if you’re like Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, you might even get an $8.5 million raise for negotiating such a great settlement when your company breaks the law. So, without criminal prosecution, the message to every Wall Street banker is loud and clear: if you break the law you are not going to jail, but you might end up with a much bigger paycheck. No one should be above the law. If you steal a hundred bucks on Main Street, you’re probably going to jail. If you steal a billion bucks on Wall Street, you darn well better go to jail too.”

When Senator Richard Shelby’s turn to speak came next, a former prosecutor himself in Alabama, he picked up on the same thread, stating: . . .

Continue reading.

Why won’t Obama go after bankers who broke the law? I suspect we’ll learn the answer once he leaves office.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2014 at 7:59 am

Irresistible government force meets immovable Wall Street obstacle

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Which will give? From article at the link, a parenthetical note near the end describes something that seems taken straight from some high-production business drama—like Capital:

“Citigroup was showing serious strains in 2007 but the meltdown came the week of November 17, 2008.  On Monday, the firm called a Town Hall meeting with employees and announced the sacking of 52,000 workers.  On Tuesday, November 18, Citigroup announced it had lost 53 per cent of an internal hedge fund’s money in a month’s time and that it was bringing $17 billion of off-balance sheet assets back onto its balance sheet. The next day brought the unwelcome tidings that a law firm was alleging that Citigroup peddled the MAT Five Fund as ‘safe’ and ‘secure’ then watched it lose 80 per cent of its value. On Thursday, Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal, a major shareholder, stepped forward to reassure the public that Citigroup was  ‘undervalued’ and he was buying more shares. The next day the stock dropped another 20 percent to close at $3.77.

“All told, Citigroup lost 60 per cent of its market value that week and 87 percent for the year to date. The company’s market value went from $250 billion in 2006 to $20.5 billion on Friday, November 21, 2008.”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 September 2014 at 12:41 pm

The US human rights record domestically: Poor

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Joanna Rothkopf reports in Salon:

The United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has recently concluded its 85th Session during which time it considered seven state reports, including one on the United States.

The report praised many progressive steps the U.S. has taken to ensure equality, including the termination of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the adoption of the Fair Sentencing Act and the adoption of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

However, the number of issues the report raises is pretty abominable. CERD expressed concern over the following problems:

  1. Lack of a national human rights institution
  2. Persistent racial profiling and illegal surveillance
  3. Prevalence and under-reporting of racist hate speech and hate crimes
  4. Disparate impact of environmental pollution in low income and minority communities
  5. Restrictive voter identification laws leading to unequal right to vote
  6. Criminalization of homelessness when homeless people are disproportionately minorities
  7. Discrimination and segregation in housing
  8. De facto racial segregation in education
  9. Unequal right to health and access to health care
  10. High number of gun-related deaths and “Stand Your Ground” laws, which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities
  11. Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials
  12. Increasingly militarized approach to immigration law enforcement
  13. Violence against women occurs disproportionately more frequently for women from racial/ethnic minorities
  14. Criminal justice system disproportionately arrests, incarcerates and subjects to harsher sentences people from racial/ethnic minorities
  15. Youth from racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately prosecuted as adults, incarcerated in adult prisons, and sentenced to life without parole
  16. Non-citizens are arbitrarily detained in Guantanamo Bay without equal access to the criminal justice system, while at risk of being subjected to torture
  17. Unequal access to legal aid
  18. Lacking rights of indigenous peoples (the report lists numerous different concerns)
  19. Absence of a National Action Plan to combat racial discrimination

In a press conference convened Friday, CERD committee vice chairman Noureddine Amir highlighted the death of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 1:34 pm

Elizabeth Warren finally speaks on Israel/Gaza, sounds like Netanyahu

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A sad sight, reported in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald. From the article:

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel “indiscriminately,” but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have “not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for.” When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel’s attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”

“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” Warren said, drawing applause.

Just to be clear: Hamas may indeed put its rocket launchers next to hospitals and schools, but that does NOT in fact protect their military assets. The hospitals and schools are then termed “human shield”, and Israel believes that it is perfectly acceptable to kill human shields: once the civilians are seen to be shields, they are shelled and bombed to death.

Moreover, Israel seems simply eager to kill Gazans, civilians or not. The shelling of four boys playing alone on a beach, with no military assets around, killed four children. That was an Israeli gunship, and it was not defending Israel, it was attacking children.

I’m disappointed in Sen. Warren. And she seems to have a closed mind regarding alternative approaches. Also from the article:

Warren even rejected a different voter’s suggestion that the U.S. force Israel to at least cease building illegal settlements by withholding further aid: “Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, ‘I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.’”

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2014 at 9:40 am

The political education of Silicon Valley

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 August 2014 at 9:13 am

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