Later On

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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

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

Intense censorship of American casualties in our frequent wars

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Those who like sending Americans to fight and die in wars that never seem to accomplish their (often unclear) goals have by now created an almost impregnable wall of censorship to prevent the American public from seeing the human cost of such wars. Peter Maas writes at The Intercept:

Beheading is barbaric. The men of the Islamic State who executed James Foley and Steve Sotloff are monsters. Yet their monstrosity does not fully explain our fury over their beheading videos, or the exhortations we have heard to not share or distribute the harrowing images.

We are right to be repulsed. But I think part of our horror stems from the fact we rarely see images of American victims of war. It is the last taboo in our era of endlessly transgressive media — publishing photos or videos of injured, dying, or dead Americans in a war zone. How has this taboo been maintained? To a great degree, the reason is censorship on the part of the American government.

It is an oddity of all of the violence since 9/11: Despite constant warfare and the death of more than 5,000 American soldiers (a figure that does not include American contractors, aid workers, and journalists) — not to mention the more than 50,000 wounded — we have rarely seen photos or videos of Americans in their ultimate agony. Photographers embedded with American troops have been all but forbidden from taking pictures of dead or wounded soldiers; Michael Kamber’s Photojournalists on War is filled with tales of war photographers prevented from doing their necessary work. Until 2009, it was even forbidden to take photographs of flag-draped coffins as they returned home. I once had a minor encounter with the machinery of censorship: On a military flight out of Baghdad in 2005, a military police officer confiscated my camera after I took a few shots of the coffins on board. He returned the device after deleting the pictures.

It’s no secret why the government has repressed these sorts of images. Support for the wars since 9/11 could be undermined if Americans were to see the ghastly things that happen to their brothers and sisters in combat. This is generally attributed to a lesson supposedly learned by the generals in Vietnam: If you let photographers take pictures of American dead and injured, you will lose public support for the messy undertaking of mass violence. It’s fine to disseminate pictures and video of foreign dead and wounded, which can actually help the war effort.

It is a different thing when the victims are ours. When it comes to our own citizens, the consequences of war are preferably represented in elliptical ways that do not show torn flesh or faces of the newly dead. Instead, we see townspeople lining up and saluting as a hearse drives by, we hear the sound of taps at a funeral, we remember the flag as it was placed in a brave widow’s hands, or we see a wounded veteran with a handful of pills for PTSD. It demands a mournful response rather than an informed decision.

This censorship has spawned an odd blowback. By shielding us from disturbing imagery, our government (and editors who shy away from gore) may have made us all the more vulnerable when we finally see dead Americans. This is not an abstract theory. The two disastrous invasions of Falluja during the Iraq War were sparked by pictures of the bodies of four American contractors hanging from one of the town’s bridges in 2004. It wasn’t the event itself so much as the pictures that launched such destructive fury. Confronted with these stark but complicated images, we tend to respond with a primal scream, as The New York Post did with its identical headlines for both the Falluja desecrations in 2004 and the Islamic State beheadings a decade later: “Savages.”

In the case of the Islamic State, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2014 at 8:46 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

Going to war once more

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The US simply cannot get enough of war, it seems. The drums are pounding steadily now for a war against ISIS. Somehow, large numbers of citizens in the US are able to ignore the obvious and on-going damage our wars (Vietnam, the Gulf, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War) have done to both our own people and to the situations we worsen by waging war.

Here are two articles worth reading:

Glenn Greenwald: Americans Now Fear Isis Sleeper Cells Are Living In The U.S., Overwhelmingly Support Military Action

Dan Froomkin: So We’re Going To War Again, And All Anyone Wants To Talk About Is The Optics?

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2014 at 9:13 am

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