Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Should the US do what ISIS wants it to do?

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Dan Froomkin gives some reasons we might not want to do that.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2014 at 2:17 pm

Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

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The NSA is really and truly out of control, and so far as I can see, Obama lacks the will (and perhaps the power) to rein it in. James Bamford has a report in the NY Times on the reaction of some in Israel to NSA’s handing over information about US citizens (including the contents of their communications) to Israel for use in sowing divisiveness among Palestinians.

Note that those protesting the actions of the Israeli government and military are in fact Israelis—this makes it harder to call them anti-Semites, I would think, though the fallback (“self-hating Jews”) is not much better. Probably rather than focus on their attitude, one should look at the substantive content of what they say.

Bamford writes:

IN Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- andPalestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

It appears that Mr. Snowden’s fears were warranted. Last week, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 — many still serving in the reserves — accused the organization of startling abuses. In a letter to their commanders, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to the head of the Israeli army, they charged that Israel used information collected against innocent Palestinians for “political persecution.” In testimonies and interviews given to the media, they specified that data were gathered on Palestinians’ sexual orientations, infidelities, money problems, family medical conditions and other private matters that could be used to coerce Palestinians into becoming collaborators or create divisions in their society.

The veterans of Unit 8200 declared that they had a “moral duty” to no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” An Israeli military spokesman disputed the letter’s overall drift but said the charges would be examined.

It should trouble the American public that some or much of the information in question — intended not for national security purposes but simply to pursue political agendas — may have come directly from the N.S.A.’s domestic dragnet. According to documents leaked by Mr. Snowden andreported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the N.S.A. has been sending intelligence to Israel since at least March 2009.

The memorandum of agreement between the N.S.A. and its Israeli counterpart covers virtually all forms of communication, including but not limited to “unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content.” The memo also indicates that the N.S.A. does not filter out American communications before delivery to Israel; indeed, the agency “routinely sends” unminimized data.

Although the memo emphasizes that Israel should make use of the intercepts in accordance with United States law, it also notes that the agreement is legally unenforceable. “This agreement,” it reads, “is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law.”

It should also trouble Americans that . . .

Continue reading.

Note that some of the comments take the position that the Israeli government should never be criticized at any time, regardless of what it does. That seems extreme to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2014 at 9:01 am

How stupid can government financial regulators be?

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This stupid.

And will it be stopped? Well, this is the Obama administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2014 at 2:09 pm

About as damning a news story as I’ve ever read

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This NY Times article by Hilary Stout and Aaron Kessler totally eviscerates the NHSTA and rightly so.

One point: Note this passage, where the acting head of the NHSTA attempted to shift blame to GM:

But Mr. Friedman sought to shift the focus to G.M.. “G.M. violated the law,” he said, a point lawmakers agreed with. “They violated the law when they failed to act at a time when air bags were not working properly in millions of their products.”

What Mr. Friedman fails to grasp (among other things, including his job) is that the committee is investigating what is wrong wit the NHSTA. The fact that things are wrong with GM is a totally separate inquiry, and things can (and actually seem to) be very wrong indeed with GM, but that has nothing to do with whether anything’s wrong at NHSTA. And something very obviously is. Later in the article:

The session comes after the release of a new and highly critical report from House investigators, examining the agency’s performance on the G.M. ignition issue. That inquiry found many of the same problems that Mr. Friedman chastised G.M. for, including that the safety agency repeatedly overlooked information that would have allowed it to detect the ignition flaw as early as 2007.

Read the whole story. This is public—and deserved—humiliation.

And take note of the elephant in the room: The story relates:

In addition, no meaningful changes within the agency have occurred since the G.M. recalls began in February, the House report found. “No one has been held accountable and no substantial changes have been made,” the report states.

And who is not doing his job in this case? President Obama, whose words ring increasingly hollow. Should he not have long since set in motion measures to shake up and reform NHSTA?

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2014 at 1:30 pm

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

Food for thought: No US Border Patrol has ever been convicted for any killing

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Even though some seem out-and-out murder. Read Andrew Becker’s article “Did he need killing?” at the Center for Investigative Journalism:

EAGLE PASS, Texas – Juan Mendez Jr. thought his life was looking up. At 18, he already had a young son. Another child was on the way.

“Mom, my baby tomorrow is getting her crib,” he boasted to his mother.

His girlfriend, Cristina Pina Rodriguez, overheard what he’d said and laughed. “Oh, Juan. Yeah, right.” She didn’t believe him. He didn’t have any money. He hadn’t had a job in months.

That moment wasn’t long after the high school dropout had walked free from jail here in remote Maverick County, along the U.S.-Mexico border and one of the state’s poorest counties. He’d been locked up for three and a half months, arrested on an outstanding warrant and facing burglary charges. A local district judge had sentenced him to eight years’ probation, a light sentence because it was his first conviction as an adult.

While in jail, Mendez promised in letters to his girlfriend that he would change the hard-partying ways that landed him behind bars. But first, he had to get money for the crib.

Around 7 a.m. Oct. 5, 2010, Mendez woke up his 15-year-old U.S.-born second cousin, Jesse Cazares, who had slept at the Mendez family home. Cazares was supposed to be living with the Mendez family as he was enrolled in high school in Eagle Pass. But he actually spent much of his time across the Rio Grande in the turbulent Mexican border town of Piedras Negras.

On a cool and overcast Tuesday morning nearly four years ago, Mendez dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and white Nike Shox. In the last few months, he’d put on weight, ballooning to 190 pounds on a 5-foot-8½-inch frame. He had straight black hair, brown eyes, a mustache and a goatee.

Mendez said goodbye to his younger brother Gerardo, who knew they were going to help smuggle marijuana. He’d heard his brother and cousin talking about it the day before, but he didn’t tell anyone.

Mendez hugged and kissed his brother. “If I don’t come back,” he said.

Gerardo did not know what his brother meant on that morning. But the comment, and the hug and kiss goodbye, were prescient. Within hours, Mendez would have a violent confrontation with a U.S. Border Patrol agent, leaving one of them dead.

With Mendez driving, he and his cousin got into in a white utility truck – a 1988 Ford F-350 two-door single cab with blue upholstery and bench seats – registered to a trucking company in San Angelo, more than 200 miles away. The truck had crossed into the United States from Mexico the day before at 2:16 p.m.

Mendez and Cazares fueled up at one gas station and grabbed breakfast at another before they made their way to the northern edge of Eagle Pass. There, they had problems with the truck’s battery, or pretended to, perhaps to stall for time. While driving, Mendez talked on the phone a couple of times.

Mendez then steered down into a grassy valley on the Rio Grande. Once there, five men ran out of the brush and tossed 10 tightly wrapped bundles of marijuana – weighing 320 pounds and valued at $256,000 – into the bed of the truck. The men swept away their tracks with some brush and ran back toward Mexico.

Around 8:30 a.m., Border Patrol Agent Hector Nunez was scanning the banks of the Rio Grande when he saw the white utility truck appear on the screen in front of him. . .

Continue reading.

All eyes are on Gil Kerlikowski. He has little time to make a change, and it needs to be a clear change.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2014 at 12:56 pm

Obama’s war plan: A hot mess

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Dan Froomkin has an excellent column, quoting the NY Times’s evisceration of the plan.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2014 at 12:31 pm


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