Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

The SEC continues to cater to Wall Street

leave a comment »

Mary Jo White, Obama’s choice to run the SEC, is turning out to be much as one feared: subservient to the demands of Wall Street. Read this article by Jesse Eisinger in ProPublica. It begins:

When a financial titan like Laurence D. Fink lobbies Washington, the natural instinct is to make sure the citizenry pats itself down to check that everyone still has their wallets, watches and belts.

Mr. Fink has been making the case that gargantuan asset managers — coincidentally, like the firm he heads, BlackRock — should not be given the dreaded label of Systemically Important Financial Institution. Being a S.I.F.I. means that you are capable of transmitting all manner of systemic financial diseases to trading partners and customers and need an extra measure of regulation.

Such Washington spectacles are made all the worse when the head regulator of Mr. Fink’s firm echoes industry talking points. Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, BlackRock’s main regulator, has been on a genuflecting tour to reassure asset managers that they have a sympathetic ear in the nation’s capital. The S.E.C. has been jostling for turf over this question. Recently, Ms. White disagreed with the Treasury Department, telling the industry that it isn’t “overreacting” to the process.

But just because Mr. Fink is talking his book and Ms. White is acting the sycophant doesn’t mean they are wrong. Large asset managers shouldn’t be designated S.I.F.I.s.

Regulators have clear tasks left unfinished from the financial crisis. Where they have made progress, it’s been inadequate. This needs to be the relentless focus. Asset managers don’t top the list.

O.K., some context is in order. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 10:24 am

Hunting American Spooks: Germany Prepares Further Spying Clampdown

leave a comment »

Der Spiegel has a lengthy two-part article on Germany’s efforts to expel American spies. Here’s the first part, which has the same title as this post. The second part is titled “A Palpable Sense of Insecurity.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:28 am

At last some troops are becoming aware that not all orders are illegal

leave a comment »

And specifically an order to torture is illegal—that’s what the CIA is for. The CIA can torture (even torture to death) with no penalties, no repercussions. But the military is (theoretically) subject to the Military Code of Justice.

At any rate, a Navy nurse has decline to participate in forced feedings at Guantánamo.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 5:42 pm

Good news: Those who hated us for our freedoms must be hating us a lot less these days

leave a comment »

Andrea Peterson has a good article in the Washington Post, in which she quotes this from a new report by Pew Research:

The Snowden revelations appear to have damaged one major element of America’s global image: its reputation for protecting individual liberties. In 22 of 36 countries surveyed in both 2013 and 2014, people are significantly less likely to believe the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its citizens. In six nations, the decline was 20 percentage points or more.

pewsnowden

 

Read the whole thing. More charts and graphs at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 4:50 pm

US spying on Germany

leave a comment »

From a good report in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson. Markus R. is the German working in the BND who was spying for the US:

Markus R. would be a lesser figure if the Germans were not still enraged about the N.S.A.’s unabashed spying on its citizens, including the agency’s eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone calls. (Merkel, whose own life in East Germany gives her some perspective on spying, said this week that she wasn’t angry, just really disappointed.) Even before that, there was the case of a car salesman from the German city of Ulm whom the C.I.A. accidentally kidnapped because his name was similar to someone whom they were interested in—and who was then held in a secret prison for months, even after the Agency realized its mistake.

Also: the CIA tortured him, and when he was released he was simply dumped in the countryside in Macedonia, and the US has refused to apologize, allow him to sue for damages, or even to acknowledge our actions (presumably because of shame, but it’s not a constructive response).

I’m beginning to think that it’s not our freedoms that makes others hate us—or perhaps it is, in a way: that the US feels it’s free to do whatever it damn pleases and to refuse to accept any accountability for its actions.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 3:42 pm

Ever Wondered Why the World is a Mess? Here’s why.

leave a comment »

Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:

Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.

ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.

Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.

This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.

1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.

Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.

2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.

The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.

The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.

3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.

Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.

Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.

The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.

There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.

4) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 2:21 pm

Brookings: One political party is actively working to make government fail

leave a comment »

Talk about stating the obvious! As Kevin Drum points out, our current migration crisis is completely due to an obstructionist political party. Christopher Ingraham and Tom Hamburger write in the Washington Post:

The federal government is failing now more than ever. That’s the conclusion of a unique taxonomy of federal ball-dropping just released by Paul C. Light, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Light analyzed 41 high-profile cases of federal failure from 2001 to the present day, culled from the Pew Research Center’s News Interest Index. Because it’s ultimately derived from news accounts, the contours of the list are roughly what you’d expect. It starts with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ends – for now – with the VA waiting list debacle in Phoenix. In between it covers everything from the search for WMDs in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina to Operation Fast and Furious. You check out the full list in an interactive over at the Brookings website, or scroll to the bottom of this post.

As with any qualitative taxonomy, there’s plenty of room quibble over which government mishaps made the cut and which didn’t. For instance, last year’s government shutdown, and the debt ceiling brinkmanship that led to the loss of S&P’s AAA credit rating for U.S. debt in 2011, didn’t make the cut. This is because Light focused only on “management/delivery failures by agencies. Some of these failures involved poorly crafted policy as a contributor, but failure had to come from the bureaucracy in some way.” So business-as-usual gridlock in Congress doesn’t make the cut.

Setting aside questions of inclusion/exclusion, Light’s work is the only methodologically rigorous account of government failures we know of, so it’s worth hearing what he has to say about these failures, what caused them, and how similar missteps can be avoided in the future.

Light breaks down the myriad factors that contribute to each of the failures he studies – bad policy, limited resources, and structural, leadership and cultural shortcomings. The study tracks the growing failure rate through the past five presidents. While many factors contribute to the generally increasing frequency of bureaucratic failures, the fluctuating numbers do reflect on an administration’s overall managerial competence. Light believes that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush led especially competent White House teams. Reagan, his study shows, averaged 1.6 failures per year during the final part of his term.

On the other hand, George W. Bush’s administration was the most failure-ridden of them all. W. averaged 3.1 failures per year – overseeing more than twice as many annual failures as his father. . .

Continue reading. Article includes graphs, and also includes this quotation from Light’s report:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

As the WaPo article notes:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 12:45 pm

Still Living With Jack Bauer in a Terrified New American World

leave a comment »

Rebecca Gordon has a good column at TomDispatch.com:

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office

The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.

The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” — the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer… individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel — once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.

Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.

Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo — a hunger strike — are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”

The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture — from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone — government officials, the press, and the public — agreed that torture was wrong.

That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?

We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”

Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.

In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a frightening place as it becomes ever more frightened. Many men fear to go in public unless they are armed. (Some were upset at not being able to carry a gun into the polling place, so frightening is it to be unarmed in America today.) Having to arm yourself to go to the store is a new kind of United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 6:18 pm

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

leave a comment »

This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

Pentagon really doesn’t care about MIAs

leave a comment »

Despite repeated efforts to get Pentagon attention to the incompetent leadership and ineffective organization of the department responsible for identifying remains of MIA troops, things continue much as before. The reason is obvious: the Pentagon simply doesn’t care. Megan McCloskey reports at ProPublica:

The Defense Department’s inspector general has drafted a stinging rebuke of the Pentagon’s struggling effort to recover the remains of missing service members from past wars, concluding the mission lacks the most elemental building blocks for success.

According to a draft report of its investigation obtained by ProPublica, the mission lacks agreed upon goals, objectives and priorities. It lacks a strategic plan and up-to-date policies. It lacks standard operating procedures, a complete centralized database of the missing, and a disinterment plan, among other flaws.

Many of these same issues were also laid out by a ProPublica and NPR investigation earlier this year.

The shortcomings have contributed to a remarkably low number of identifications each year – just 60 in 2013 out of the tens of thousands missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — despite about $100 million annually to get the job done.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced an overhaul in late March of the MIA effort. The current agencies involved in the mission will be consolidated within the next year into a new agency.

The revamped organization will have quite a job ahead of it. The Inspector General also laid out problems with leadership at the main agency involved with the mission, which have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon. Complaints from about 50 current and former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command employees, “paint a picture of long-term leadership and management problems resulting in a hostile and dysfunctional work environment,” the report states.

“If left uncorrected, the problems driving these complaints will be brought into the new Defense agency…hindering mission accomplishment.”

About a dozen former J-PAC employees have told ProPublica that they loved the mission but quit because of leadership issues.

When the Pentagon announced the revamp of the mission this spring, it stressed a structurally flawed system rather than issues regarding individual leaders and sidestepped any questions about accountability. Most of the leaders within the various agencies have been in charge in different positions for decades.

The Inspector General recommended that the Pentagon immediately “take corrective action” on the leadership problems, as well as cut back on staff to eliminate duplicative positions among the various agencies.

Continue reading.

It’s worth noting that the Pentagon does not believe in personal responsibility and accountability. The primary motivation and rive seems to be to protect officers at all costs, regardless of their performance.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:01 am

VA efforts to hide problems so as to get bonuses worked well

leave a comment »

A lot of bonuses were paid based on outright lies and fabrications—lies that led to some patient deaths and much patient suffering. But the latter does not seem to be all that important to the VA bureaucracy.

Truly, why are these people not going to prison? I think that is much more justified than paying them large bonuses.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:41 am

CDC faces some serious problems in lab practices

leave a comment »

At least they are being open about it and taking emphatic steps to stop the damage. Here’s the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 1:24 pm

Obama’s Reckless German Spy Scandal

leave a comment »

Though it may not be Obama who is restless: Jacob Heilbrunn’s article in The National Interest makes the interesting observation that Obama and the Executive Branch may no longer be able to control the NSA and CIA, which now are operating according to their own agenda and keeping from the president much of what they are doing.

The question in Germany isn’t so much what the United States has been spying on. The real question is why it has felt compelled to gather what appears to amount to trivial information. “So much idiocy and stupidity can only make you cry,” said German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble. If so, there must be a lot of weeping going on in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. Schauble, who has served at the highest levels of government for several decades, is a staunch Atlanticist. But it’s increasingly clear that the Obama administration is either oblivious to the dangers it’s running in antagonizing Berlin or it’s unable to control the intelligence agencies who are running amok–Merkel demanded the expulsion of the CIA station chief at the America embassy on Thursday, a move that she had to take to placate mounting outrage among the German public.

Either way, President Obama has a crisis on his hands. But it’s one he does not appear to be addressing. Instead, the administration and CIA director John Brennan are stonewalling both Congress and Germany.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, reports today:

A top German intelligence official told the German parliamentary committee that oversees intelligence services that a call from Mr. Brennan earlier this week shed little light on the current investigations, according to people present at his briefing. The official said Mr. Brennan offered little but platitudes about the value of the trans-Atlantic alliance and expressed frustration about the bad press, according to the account.

This won’t do. The National Security Agency apparently has at least 150 listening sites in Germany. U.S. intelligence services have also been trying to suborn German officials to turn over secret documents, including, apparently, the results of an investigation into NSA spying itself in Germany.

Ever since Edward Snowden decamped to Moscow, floods of documents that he’s released have indicated that Germany is a prime target of American espionage. The weekly Der Spiegel referred to the American embassy in Berlin as a “nest of spies.” The rooftop of the embassy seems to have been converted into a listening post. Yes, spying goes on all the time between nations. Germans spy as well. But it’s the sheer extent of American efforts that’s causing Germans to rub their eyes in disbelief. They have the feeling that they remain a nation under suspicion. The spying is prompting Germans, already wary of what they regard as American militarism, to reassess the value of ties to America. As I note in the Los Angeles Times today, they tend to see the U.S. as a rogue state that poses more of a threat to global security than either Russia or Iran.

The roots of this antipathy to the U.S. rest in . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Obama may not be in control of the intelligence agencies. When Obama spoke with Merkel over a week ago, he apparently had not been told by the CIA that the Germans had nabbed an American spy working for their Bundesnachrichtendienst, or federal intelligence service. Was anyone punished for this lapse? At a minimum, Obama should have called Brennan on the carpet. Depending on the extent of the CIA’s follies, Obama may have to consider firing Brennan. Once again the issue of Obama’s competence in running the federal government is at issue.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 1:16 pm

NSA continues its pattern of simply lying to the public, joined by the White House

with one comment

Apparently the US government now accepts lying as a standard procedure: there seems to be no feeling that being truthful with the public—the governed—is important, and telling flat-out lies is completely accepted as NSA procedure, with no sanctions applied (even, as in the case of James Clapper, lying while under oath). Unfortunately, the result is whole distrust of the government: people tend not to trust those who lie to them, particularly if the lying is habitual.

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration—while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention—pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom. From the August 20, 2013, press briefing by then-deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest:

Q: A last one on the NSA—The Guardian newspaper, following on everything that was discussed yesterday—The Guardian is saying that British authorities destroyed several hard drives, because they wanted to keep secrets that Edward Snowden had leaked from actually getting out. They were stored in The Guardian‘s—they had some hard drives there at their offices. British authorities went in there and destroyed these hard drives. Did the American government get a heads up about that the way you did about the person being detained?

MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the published reports of those accusations, but I don’t have any information for you on that.

Q: And does the U.S. government think it’s appropriate for a government, especially one of our allies, to go in and destroy hard drives? Is that something this administration would do?

MR. EARNEST: The only thing I know about this are the public reports about this, so it’s hard for me to evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened.

Q: But this administration would not do that, would not go into an American media company and destroy hard drives, even if it meant trying to protect national security, you don’t think?

MR. EARNEST: It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.

But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials— including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander—not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.

One email, dated July 19 (the day prior to the destruction) bears the subject line “Guardian data being destroyed” and is from NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett to Alexander. He writes: “Good news, at least on this front.” The next day, almost immediately after the computers were destroyed, Alexander emailed Ledgett: ”Can you confirm this actually occurred?” Hours later, under the same subject line, Clapper emailed Alexander, saying: “Thanks Keith … appreciate the conversation today”.

It’s hardly surprising that the Obama Administration was fully informed in advance: It’s virtually inconceivable that notoriously subservient London officials would ever take any meaningful action without the advance knowledge and permission of their Washington overseers. There are, however, several notable points from these new disclosures:

Continue reading. Greenwald points out more instances of outright lies made to the public by NSA and the Obama Administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 11:24 am

How the War on Drugs and the War on Terror Merged Into One Disastrous War on All Americans

leave a comment »

Alex Kane reports at AlterNet:

It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States.” With those words, Nixon ushered in the “war on drugs,” the attempt to use law enforcement to jail drug users and halt the flow of illegal substances like marijuana and cocaine.

Thirty years later, another president, George W. Bush, declared war on another word: terrorism. But the war on drugs hadn’t ended yet. Instead of one failed war replacing another soon-to-be-failed war, both drugs and terrorism remain targets for law enforcement and military action that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and have cost billions of dollars.

In fact, the war on terror and the war on drugs have merged to form a hydra-headed monster that rapaciously targets Americans, particularly communities of color. Tactics and legislation used to fight terrorism in the U.S. have been turned on drug users, with disastrous consequences measured in lives, limbs and cash. And money initially used to combat drugs has been spent on the war on terror. From the Patriot Act to the use of informants to surveillance, the wars on drugs and terror have melted into one another.

On Oct. 26, 2011, after remarkably little debate, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) into law. Some elected officials admitted they hadn’t read the entire legislation before voting on it. The Patriot Act was renewed in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

The purpose of the legislation was “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world [and] to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools.” Buried in the act is a hint that the wars on terror and drugs were being paired. The Patriot Act appropriated $5 million to the Drug Enforcement Administration to train Turkish forces in anti-drug measures and to increase the apprehension of drugs in South and Central Asia.

Even more significant was Section 213 of the act, which legitimizes what are known as “sneak and peek warrants.” These warrants, approved by a judge, allow the police to enter into a home without notifying the suspect in that home for at least 30 days—90 days if a judge is convinced the police need it. The 90-day extensions can be repeatedly re-authorized. Authorities are able to enter a home or office, rifle through private property and take photographs all without the suspect knowing, which is contrary to how normal warrants work. While “sneak and peek” authority was allowed in limited cases before the 2001 legislation, the Patriot Act has dramatically expanded its use. And the vast majority of cases where it’s used had nothing to do with terrorism, despite the FBI’s claim that the warrants are an “invaluable tool to fight terrorism.”

From October 2009 to September 2010, law enforcement agents executed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2014 at 12:32 pm

Should the NSA be spying on innocent people?

leave a comment »

Amy Davidson has a good column in the New Yorker:

 What counts as an American name? A report by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, at the Intercept, says that the N.S.A. and F.B.I. have “covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans,” and names five of them. They are real Americans—men like Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers. Then there is a fake name that appears in another document cited in the Intercept piece, apparently related to N.S.A. training—someone’s idea of a useful example of a potential surveillance target: “Mohammed Raghead.”

The Intercept found the addresses of the Americans on a spreadsheet called “FISA Recap.” The document’s title suggests that the N.S.A. at least got warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which operates in secret, before it tracked and, presumably, read e-mails connected to these addresses. That raises some questions about the court and its standards. The N.S.A. is meant to spy on foreigners, not those whom are designated as “U.S. persons” (citizens and legal residents). The exception is when the agency has enough evidence to persuade the FISA judges that its American targets are involved in illegal foreign-terrorism activities. As the Intercept notes, we do not know what evidence the government did or did not have. We are often told that the FISA court is extraordinarily careful. Here is a measure of that care: one of the headings on the spreadsheet is “nationality.” For an address belonging to Faisal Gill, a veteran of the Navy and the Bush Administration, who has been a U.S. person since childhood, that entry was “unknown.” The spreadsheet contained fifty-five hundred and one entries; four hundred and eighty-two were identified as “unknown.”

“Unknown” can sound mysterious; or maybe it’s just another word for reckless disregard for the privacy of Americans. In a report in the Washington Post over the Fourth of July weekend, Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani examined a “large cache of intercepted communications.” (Like the “FISA Recap,” they were among the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.) In this cache, which “came from domestic NSA operations,” the Post found that nearly half the files “contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.” The N.S.A. is supposed to “minimize” the harm when it “incidentally” spies on Americans; the Post found nine hundred instances, in this sample, in which that was not done. And even minimizing can leave plenty in the government’s files—never mind that some agent may have already read about your views on your boss or your friends or your political associations before having the belated revelation that you are an American.

“Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality,” according to the Post. “The daily lives of more than ten thousand account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.” (Some other information did look very useful, but came with “collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.”) The cache contained chat transcripts, medical records, and “academic transcripts of schoolchildren”: “Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers.” Do acts of intimacy have to double as performances of innocence for the N.S.A.?

The activities that expose Americans to surveillance are explicitly not supposed to include actions related to the First Amendment, like speech or advocacy, or, say, running for office, which Faisal Gill was doing at the time he was spied on. (He got the Republican nomination for a seat in Virginia’s legislature.) A couple of the men have sued the government or were involved with groups that did, or have been the attorneys for foreign governments in U.S. courts. Nihad Awad has been viewed as controversial because of statements, years ago, seen as sympathetic to Hamas. None of this, according to what we’ve been told are FISA’s extraordinary standards, is supposed to be enough to let someone in the government read the e-mails that people send at work, or to clients, or to someone they love. A reason for the standards is the miserable experience that the United States has had with domestic spying; some relevant names there are Martin Luther King, Jr., and J. Edgar Hoover.

What is most striking about theses five men is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2014 at 12:28 pm

Advice on how the Obama administration can learn from the IRS’s data mess

leave a comment »

Fascinating article about a guy trying to get public records available on-line, and what he ran into at the IRS. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 12:52 pm

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

leave a comment »

Interesting return to targeting people based on their religious beliefs: no other evidence necessary, apparently. Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain report at The Intercept:

The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

  • Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;
  • Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;\
  • Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
  • Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
  • Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.

The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008. Many of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners whom the government believes are linked to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Among the Americans on the list are individuals long accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

But a three-month investigation by The Intercept—including interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials involved in the FISA process—reveals that in practice, the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens.

The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments.

“I just don’t know why,” says Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 8:26 am

Interesting adaptation: Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint

leave a comment »

Coral Davenport has a very interesting article in the NY Times:

In November 2010, three combatants gathered in a sleek office here to build a carbon emissions policy that they hoped to sell to the Obama administration.

One was a lawyer who had been wielding the Clean Air Act since his days at the University of California, Berkeley. Another had turned to practicing environmental law and writing federal regulations to curb pollution after spending a summer on a pristine island off Nova Scotia. The third, a climate scientist who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, became an environmentalist because of postcollege backpacking trips in the Rockies.

The three were as seasoned and well connected as Washington’s best-paid lobbyists because of their decades of experience and the relationships they formed in the capital.

Over the next two years the lawyers, David Doniger and David Hawkins, and the scientist, Daniel Lashof, worked with a team of experts to write a 110-page proposal, widely viewed as innovative and audacious, that was aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. On June 2, President Obama proposed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule to curb power plant emissions that used as its blueprint the work of the three men and their team.

It was a remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the longtime home of Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins and, until recently, of Mr. Lashof. The organization has a reach that extends from the big donors of Wall Street to the elite of Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are on its board) to the far corners of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins once worked.

The group’s leaders understand the art of influence: In successfully drafting a climate plan that heavily influenced the president’s proposal, the organization followed the strategy used by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, to write an energy policy for Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.

“The N.R.D.C. proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit, describing how the council’s work influenced the proposed 650-page environmental regulation.

Representatives of the coal industry agreed. “N.R.D.C. is crafting regulatory policy for the E.P.A. that is designed to advance their agenda at the cost of American businesses and people who will pay the price through much higher electricity rates,” wrote Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group. Scott Segal, who lobbies for the coal industry with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an email that the council’s experts “have unprecedented access to this E.P.A. and are able to project influence down to the details of regulatory proposals and creative legal theories.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was so certain of the council’s sway that it used the group’s proposal as the basis for its economic analysis of what it expected in the E.P.A. rule, before the rule’s actual release. “It is no surprise that N.R.D.C. has a great deal of influence on E.P.A. and the White House,” Matthew LeTourneau, a chamber spokesman, wrote in an email.

Continue reading. Also note the comments and links to related coverage.

One important point inexplicably omitted from the story is the result of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis. Here’s Krugman’s comment on their analysis—and it found that the cost of combatting climate change is remarkably low.

See also this column.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 8:04 pm

Stating simple common sense about the effects of US drone warfare

leave a comment »

The editors of the NY Times have it right:

For all the slick technology, there are grave moral and legal questions going unanswered in the government’s use of armed drones to kill people considered terrorist threats. The problems involving these secretive executions are ably underlined by a bipartisan panel of military and intelligence veterans who warn in a new report that without adequate controls and public accountability, the United States could be on a “slippery slope” into a form of perpetual warfare that invites other nations to follow suit and never explain themselves.

“The United States should not conduct a long-term killing program based on secret rationales,” the panel cautioned in a 77-page analysis released by the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank specializing in international peace and security.

Targeted killings by drones may be justified at times against terrorist threats to the United States, but the “blow back” from unintended civilian killings in places like Pakistan and Yemen is becoming “a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations,” the report noted. The panel, which had experienced specialists from the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, concluded that there was no indication that drone attacks on suspected terrorists had advanced “long-term U.S. security interests.”

The Obama administration should be addressing these issues with regular reports to the public about the rationale for the use of drones and the numbers of militants and civilians killed. Instead, excessive secrecy shrouds these operations. While the report points out that there may be fewer civilian casualties in a drone strike than in a conventional bombing, drone operations need to be subject to credible oversight.

The report sensibly proposes that . . .

Continue reading.

Congress and the Obama Administration should seriously consider the proposition that there may be problems that cannot be solved by killing people, and that perhaps our drone warfare is trying to solve one of those problems, which would help explain why the problem simply keeps getting worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 7:18 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,201 other followers

%d bloggers like this: