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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

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A good post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 4:12 pm

Where Is the Investigation Into Financial Corruption at the NSA?

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It’s not only the police who have been corrupted by power: when you combine great power with total secrecy things can go very bad indeed. Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:

Earlier this year, when Keith Alexander resigned as head of the National Security Agency, he began trying to cash in on expertise he’d gained while in government, pitching himself as a security consultant who could protect Wall Street banks and other large corporations from cyber-attacks by hackers or foreign governments. Early reports focused on the eye-popping price tag for his services: He reportedly asked for $1 million a month, later decreasing his rate to $600,000.

“I question how Mr. Alexander can provide any of the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods,” Representative Alan Grayson wrote in a letter to banking trade groups that retained him. “Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.”

What, exactly, was he selling?

The explanation Alexander offered in an interview with Foreign Policy only raised more questions. In his telling, the value of his consulting services was explained by “a patented and ‘unique’ approach to detecting malicious hackers and cyber-intruders that the retired Army general said he has invented, along with his business partners at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the company he co-founded after leaving the government and retiring from military service in March.” He revealed his company’s plans to file at least nine patents “for a system to detect so-called advanced persistent threats, or hackers who clandestinely burrow into a computer network in order to steal secrets or damage the network.”

In government, Alexander had publicized and inveighed against just these sorts of threats, claiming that they were already responsible for the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. He oversaw a workforce that studied cyber-attacks and cyber-defenses, often drawing on highly classified or privileged information. So it struck many observers as suspicious that, immediately upon retiring, he suddenly had a dramatically better solution to a pressing national-security problem, one he never introduced while in government but planned to patent and sell. Had he withheld a valuable security solution to profit from it later? Were the novel approaches he intended to patent developed on the public dime? Alexander claimed that his part of the relevant work was done in his spare time, while other cyber-defense solutions were developed by his partner outside government.

No one could prove that those explanations were lies.

But they smelled fishy, especially because even as Alexander created the appearance of multiple improprieties as he entered the private sector, the NSA refused to release the statements of financial conflicts of interest that he’d filed as a federal employee. Indeed, the NSA refused to release the financial-conflict forms of any of its employees, despite the fact that they were required by public-records laws to do so. Their legal position was partly that releasing these records would harm national security. Investigative journalist Jason Leopold sued to challenge those claims. His victory—the NSA backed down before the case even went to court—showed both the legal indefensibility of withholding those public records and the blatant dishonesty of the claim that their release would harm national security: As you can see for yourself, contra the NSA’s assurances, nothing in the documents that the NSA has now turned over plausibly threatens national security.

What the documents do reveal, beyond the fact that NSA administrators are willing to mislead the public and the press, is that Alexander had even more potential conflicts of interest than were known publicly (though NSA lawyers declared them kosher). As Leopold reports: . . .

Continue reading.

Things may change: NSA reviewing official’s part-time private work

And note this story by Adam Roston at Buzzfeed:

One of the nation’s top spies is leaving her position at the National Security Agency (NSA), a spokesman confirmed Friday, amid growing disclosures of possible conflicts of interest at the secretive agency.

The shakeup comes just a month after BuzzFeed News began reporting on the financial interests of the official, Teresa Shea, and her husband.

Shea was the director of signals intelligence, or SIGINT, which involves intercepting and decoding electronic communications via phones, email, chat, Skype, and radio. It’s widely considered the most important mission of the NSA, and includes some of the most controversial programs disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden, including the mass domestic surveillance program.

The NSA provided a statement Friday that said Teresa Shea’s “transition” from the SIGINT director job was routine and “planned well before recent news articles.” The agency indicated she would remain employed, but did not provide specifics.

The Sheas did not respond to a message left at their home telephone number.

In September, BuzzFeed News reported that a SIGINT “contracting and consulting” company was registered at Shea’s house, even while she was the SIGINT director at NSA. The resident agent of the company, Telic Networks, was listed as James Shea, her husband.

Mr. Shea is also the vice president of a major SIGINT contractor that appears to do business with the NSA. The company, DRS Signals Solutions, is a subsidiary of DRS Technologies, which itself is a subsidiary of Italian-owned Finmeccanica SPA.

Last week BuzzFeed News also reported Shea herself had incorporated an “office and electronics” business at her house, and that the company owned a six-seat airplane and a condominium in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Over the past month, Teresa and James Shea haven’t returned phone calls, and the NSA has declined to comment about any specifics, beyond explaining how the agency tries to address conflict of interest issues in general, and to say that “the agency takes Federal ethics laws quite seriously.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

CIA lying about stalling the report

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The CIA, doing everything it can to stop the Senate report—after already destroying all the video evidence of their torture of prisoners (and presumably of some of the innocents that mistakenly tortured). But they are lying about their stall, of course.

From Dan Froomkin’s column today:

Trapani [CIA spokesman] said, “CIA worked extensively to assist SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Inteligence] in completing this Study. CIA expects this report to be released, consistent with the SSCI vote. Anyone suggesting that we are trying to stall to January does not understand the basic facts of this matter.”

Either side in a negotiation can technically blame the other for holding up an agreement. But the CIA does have a bad track record here.

J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote recently:

As the official responsible for oversight of the system for classifying national security information during the Bush administration, I frequently did battle with the CIA over declassification. I found its negotiating posture to be consistent: start out with the most ridiculous position and eventually settle for one that is simply outrageous. My 40 years of experience in the world of government secrecy taught me that the CIA rarely if ever acts in good faith when it comes to transparency.

Leonard wrote that in this case, “The CIA even redacted information already made public by a 2009 Armed Services Committee Report on detainee abuse within the military.”

Obama promised that he would expedite the release of the report, but then Obama also promised “a world without nuclear weapons” and now he’s going to spend $1 trillion to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Obama apparently likes to make promises and apparently feels that, once a promise is made, no further action is required and he can do as he likes.

And so far as his actions and words go, Obama has never even heard of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed (by Ronald Reagan) and ratified. He has completely ignored it for 6 years.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 1:55 pm

Senate report on the US torture program: Not enough, very late, and still no recognition of the legal requirements of the Convention Against Torture

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Dan Froomkin thinks that Obama may be trying to run out the clock—holding off on declassifying the Executive Summary of the Senate report on the CIA torture program (which ignores those who ordered the program, of course) until after the election, so that a GOP-controlled Senate can kill the report altogether. Obama is nothing if not loyal to the torturers and to the Establishment, a grave disappointment. His main motive seems to be to protect malefactors, something that became evident when he named John Brennan to head the CIA. Froomkin writes:

Continued White House foot-dragging on the declassification of a much-anticipated Senate torture report is raising concerns that the administration is holding out until Republicans take over the chamber and kill the report themselves.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee sent a 480-page executive summary of its extensive report on the CIA’s abuse of detainees to the White House for declassification more than six months ago.

In August, the White House, working closely with the CIA, sent back redactions that Feinstein and other Senate Democrats said rendered the summary unintelligible and unsupported.

Since then, the wrangling has continued behind closed doors, with projected release dates repeatedly falling by the wayside.  The Huffington Post reported this week that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a close ally of CIA Director John Brennan, is personally leading the negotiations, suggesting keen interest in their progress — or lack thereof — on the part of  Brennan and President Obama.

Human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, who interviewed a wide range of intelligence and administration officials for his upcoming book,  Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy, told The Intercept that the White House and the CIA are hoping a Republican Senate will, in their words, “put an end to this nonsense.”

Stalling for time until after the midterm elections and the start of a Republican-majority session is the “battle plan,” Horton said. “I can tell you that Brennan has told people in the CIA that that’s his prescription for doing it.”

Republicans are widely expected to win control of the Senate Nov. 4.

Victoria Bassetti, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, wrote this week that the administration is playing “stall ball” and that Senate staffers expect Republicans would “spike release of the report” should they take over the chamber.

Asked if the White House is slow-walking the negotiations on purpose, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan replied: …

If you think she said, “Yes, that’s right: if we can just hold off a little longer, the report can be buried and the American people will be kept in the dark about what their government is doing.” — Just joking. Denial, obfuscation, stonewalling, and in general treating the public with contempt seems to be the order of business. But read the rest of the column—it’s worth reading.

McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, and Marisa Taylor have a good report worth reading in its entirety. It begins:

A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

As a result, the $40 million, five-year inquiry passed up what may be the final opportunity to render an official verdict on the culpability of Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials for the program, in which suspected terrorists were abducted, sent to secret overseas prisons, and subjected to the harsh interrogation techniques.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

At the same time, she said, the report still is critically important because it will give “the public facts even if it doesn’t come to these conclusions. The reason we have this factual accounting is not for prurient interest. It’s so we can avoid something like this ever happening again in the future.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 11:41 am

Blackwater employees go to prison, their boss remains free and rich

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In The Intercept Jeremy Scahill has a good report on the Baghdad massacre of civilians done by the Blackwater employees:

A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.

The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.

The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car: . . .

Continue reading.

He includes this brief movie:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 4:43 pm

The NY Fed looks increasingly like a criminal organization, facilitating bank scams

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 4:09 pm

‘Facebook is a gift to intelligence agencies’

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Very interesting interview with Laura Poitras (author of the quotation of the title) in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 2:12 pm

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