Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Congress seems to be outraged (as am I) over the government’s actions against Associated Press, but Congress rejected the legislation that would have prevented that—and now Obama is sending that legislation back to Congress, since they’re so concerned about it. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:
The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.
The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.
The new push comes as the Obama administration has come under fire from both parties amid the disclosure this week that the Justice Department, as part of a leak investigation, secretly used a subpoena earlier this year to obtain a broad swath of calling records involving Associated Press reporters and editors. . .
DemocracyNow! has an excellent interview, video at the link, which begins:
Following last week’s guilty verdict in Guatemala’s historic genocide trial, reporter Allan Nairn says the United States should follow Guatemala’s lead and indict the Reagan administration officials who supported the genocide under General Efraín Ríos Montt. “All of [these crimes] were crimes not just of General Ríos Montt, but also of the U.S. government,” Nairn says. Former President Ronald Reagan once called Ríos Montt “a man of great personal integrity.” After the verdict, Judge Yassmin Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.
Ironic, eh? But I’m sure the GOP will calm down once this is pointed out. Jed Lewison writes at Daily Kos:
Darrell Issa is outraged that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records through a subpoena of the AP’s telecommunications provider. He’s right to condemn the action, but as nycsouthpaw points out, it’s worth remembering that Issa voted against legislation that would have protected the AP:
Issa was one of 21 House members who opposed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, a measure that would have forbidden federal investigators from compelling journalists to give evidence without first obtaining a court order. The bill included a section that specifically forbid subpoenaing journalists’ phone records from “communication service providers” to the same extent that the law protected the journalists themselves.
The legislation passed the House, but it was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and opposed by the Bush Administration. Barack Obama, at the time a U.S. Senator, didn’t vote on the bill, but was a co-sponsor. So you have a situation where Issa and Senate Republicans opposed legislation that would have prevented a government action they now decry, and you have a president who supported the legislation but whose administration is now responsible for taking the actions his legislation was supposed to prevent.
Thus far, the president hasn’t addressed the DOJ’s actions. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to take a neutral posture, saying that the White House was unaware of the subpoena until the AP announced it yesterday and referring all questions to the DOJ.
Given the president’s support for the press shield legislation in the Senate, he’s at risk of being as hypocritical on this issue as Issa and most Senate Republicans—without having the added virtue of being right. But if he wasn’t involved in the decision to subpoena the records, he could help make up for the government’s overreach not only by saying it was wrong to subpoena copies of AP phone records, but also by harnessing the GOP’s new civil libertarian streak to push through the legislation that they killed just a few short years ago.
At Salon Joan Walsh asks a question to which I hope the answer will shortly be known—let’s see if the Obama persecution of those who leak information will apply to this incident.
Was ABC News used by someone with an ax to grind against the State Department? It looks possible. A key email in its “scoop” that the administration’s “talking points” on Benghazi had been changed a dozen times came from White House national security communications adviser Ben Rhodes. It seemed to confirm that the White House wanted the talking points changed to protect all agencies’ interests, “including those of the State Department,” in the words of the email allegedly sent by Rhodes.
But CNN’s Jake Tapper reveals that Rhodes’ email didn’t mention the State Department, and doesn’t even seem to implicitly reference it. The email as published by Karl differs significantly from the original obtained by Tapper.
According to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Rhodes weighed in after State Department’s Victoria Nuland, who expressed concerns about the way the talking points might hurt “my building’s leadership.” ABC quotes Rhodes saying:
We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.
The email obtained by Tapper is very different.
Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.
You can read the original here.
Significantly, the Rhodes email doesn’t even mention the controversial Benghazi talking points. Reporting by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard paraphrased Rhodes’ email the same way – to depict him jumping in behind Nuland and protecting the interests of the State Department. Some on the right have suggested Karl and Tapper might be talking about two different emails, but in the ABC and CNN stories, the emails are dated identically, 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. Tapper provides the original; Karl did not.
Presumably, someone changed Rhodes’ email before leaking it to Karl, but ABC News hasn’t replied to the scoop by Tapper (who used to work there). ABC’s story added fuel to the Benghazi fire; we’ll see if CNN’s helps put it out.
I wonder whether Jonathan Karl will issue a correction.
The Justice Department’s Seizing of AP Phone Records: A Continuation of Attacks on Freedom of the Press
The Obama Administration Department of Justice seems to be badly broken: it won’t prosecute banks and other financial institutions for their misdeeds, it continues to persecute medical marijuana users who obey their state laws regarding medical marijuana (thus breaking a promise Obama and Holder made), it viciously persecutes whistleblowers to prevent government wrong-doing from being exposed, it refuses to investigate and bring to trial those guilty of war crimes such as torture, and in general has shown little interest in fulfilling its duties, particularly those that involve work.
The NY Times editorial today takes the Obama Administration to task for its seizure of phone records:
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.
On Friday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had been going through The A.P.’s records for months. The dragnet covered work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at one of the oldest and most reputable news organizations. James Cole, a deputy attorney general, offered no further explanation on Tuesday, saying only that it was part of a “criminal investigation involving highly classified material” from early 2012.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said he could not comment on the details of the phone records seizure, which he said was an open investigation — although he was happy to comment on the open investigation into the tax audits of conservative groups, which he said might have been criminal and were “certainly outrageous and unacceptable.”
Both Mr. Holder and Mr. Cole declared their commitment — and that of President Obama — to press freedoms. Mr. Cole said the administration does not “take lightly” such secretive trolling through media records.
We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, . . .
And this post by Kevin Gosztola at The Dissenter is well worth reading:
The US Justice Department’s secret seizure of phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press is nothing less than a continuation of attacks on freedom of the press that have been ongoing under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Carl Bernstein, famed investigative journalist who broke the story on the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and declared this is a “matter of policy.” It goes right up to the president and the people who surround him, the very officials who have waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and leaks.
He also explained, “The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.”
Over 100 Journalists’ Phone Communications Collected
The AP reported yesterday that the Justice Department had “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of reporters and editors, who worked for the AP. The records “listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
They came from “more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.” There is no way of knowing the “exact number of journalists,” who used the phone lines during this period, however, “100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
The AP only found out that records had been secretly obtained through a letter from US attorney, Ronald Machen, which the AP’s general counsel, Laura Malone, received on the afternoon of May 10.
The records were possibly “obtained from phone companies,” perhaps through the issuing of a national security letter (NSL). Officials chose not to notify AP before collecting information and claim they did not have to provide notice, citing an exemption in federal regulations. . .
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
The more we find out about the editing of the Benghazi talking points, the more the evidence points in one direction: this was a CIA fiasco from the start. As we all know by now, the Benghazi mission was primarily a CIA operation, and they were the ones responsible for security there. But when it came time to write up talking points for public consumption after the September 11 attacks, they immediately started trying to shift blame. Here is David Brooks writing about the role of State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland:
On Friday evening of Sept. 14, the updated talking points were e-mailed to the relevant officials in various departments, including Nuland….[She] noted that the talking points left the impression that the C.I.A. had issued all sorts of warnings before the attack.
Remember, this was at a moment when the State Department was taking heat for what was mostly a C.I.A. operation, while doing verbal gymnastics to hide the C.I.A.’s role. Intentionally or not, the C.I.A. seemed to be repaying the favor by trying to shift blame to the State Department for ignoring intelligence.
Marcy Wheeler had a more pungent assessment a few days ago:
In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response….The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.
Today Jake Tapper tells us that previous reports about the role of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes have also been mistaken. Rhodes didn’t say anything to suggest that the White House was concerned with protecting the State Department’s repution. All he said was this: ”We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” The next day, when everyone got together to vet the talking points, they were stripped down to their final mushy state.
Greg Sargent has more here. This was, pretty clearly, a turf war, and the evidence increasingly suggests it was a war started by the CIA. The State Department has already largely owned up to its own failures in the ARB report released last year. So far, though, the CIA hasn’t.
So far as I can tell, the CIA has been primarily a destructive force to American well-being.
As you would expect if the economy improves and the wealthy are taxed a bit more, the deficit is declining. And health-care costs are dropping. I expect that the GOP, which has been quite agitated about the deficit and about healthcare costs, will be very pleased and I’m eager to see their happy responses. There are quite a few discussions of this:
It looks like we’ve moved to talking about possible scandals just in time, because according to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt disaster that has obsessed the political class for the last three years is pretty much solved, at least for the next 10 years or so.
The last time the CBO estimated our future deficits was February– just four short months ago. Back then, the CBO thought deficits were falling and health-care costs were slowing. Today, the CBO thinks deficits are falling even faster and health-care costs are slowing by even more.
Here’s the short version: Washington’s most powerful budget nerds have cut their prediction for 2013 deficits by more than $200 billion. They’ve cut their projections for our deficits over the next decade by more than $600 billion. Add it all up and our 10-year deficits are looking downright manageable. Following are the highlights.
1) Swoosh-shaped debt. . .
Paul Waldman and Jaime Fuller at The American Prospect:
In case it slipped your mind during all this talk of scandal and impeachment, official Washington has spent the last couple of years gnashing its teeth about the budget deficit. Even as European austerity policies threw the continent into a period of extended despair, Republicans and their allies in the well-appointed conference rooms of “centrist” think tanks told us sternly that unemployment would have to wait; the most immediate crisis was the deficit.
Well today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its latest deficit projection, and lo and behold, it turns out that mercilessly slashing spending and allowing some modest tax increases has an impact. They project the deficit will be $642 billion this year, lower than it has been since 2008. Not only that, the CBO’s projections of future Medicare spending have been reduced as well. Hard as it might be to wrap your head around the idea, there has been some good news of late on the fiscal front.
So here’s a bold prediction: . . .
Ray McGovern writes at ConsortiumNews.com:
There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.
One exception to the congressional cowardice is Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, who sponsored a highly instructive panel discussion on the prison at Guantanamo last Friday. Why simply a “briefing,” rather than a formal House hearing? Simple. Not one of the majority Republicans who currently chair committees in the House and have the power to call hearings wants Americans to hear the details of this blight on the nation’s conscience.
To be completely fair, the reigning reluctance seems, actually, to be a bipartisan affair. Moran is one of the few Democrats possessed of a conscience and enough moral courage to let the American people know what is being done in their name. For other lawmakers, it is a mite too risky.Folksy folks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee which is supposed to exercise oversight of the lethal operations carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, make no bones about the dilemma they prefer to duck when it comes to letting detainees die at Guantanamo or letting the president blow up suspected terrorists via drone strikes.
Here’s Graham quoted in Esquire magazine last summer on why Congress has engaged in so little oversight of the lethal drone program: “Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the president should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that’s why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area.” The same thinking applies to showing any mercy for the people held at Guantanamo.
It seems to me that Guantanamo is a three-fold scandal: (1) the abomination of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment given those prisoners; (2) the reality that most of those remaining were cleared for release more than three years ago; and (3) the fact that Moran’s was the very first congressionally sponsored public “briefing” of its kind – more than 11 years late.
While there has been endless attention paid to how the Benghazi talking points were drafted for use on Sunday talk shows last September, the American people have been spared high-profile testimony about how 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantanamo were cleared for release more than three years ago following a year-long investigation of their cases by an interagency task force of officials at the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security.
How might Americans feel if they knew that most of these 86 are now on a prolonged hunger strike and that many are being force-fed against their will, a notoriously painful, degrading and even illegal practice. Two weeks ago, 40 additional military medical personnel were sent to Guantanamo to assist with the force-feedings.
The American Medical Association has condemned such force-feedings as a violation of “core ethical values of the medical profession.” The United Nations has condemned the practice as torture and a breach of international law.
Friday’s unusual “briefing” sprang from an initiative by a group of concerned citizens mostly from Moran’s district in northern Virginia. On April 30, Kristine Huskey led a small group of us to meet with Moran, one of the very few members of Congress to speak out against the obscenity called Guantanamo. We put our shoulders to the wheel (and enlisted the willing shoulders of many other pro-justice people) and brought about the briefing in nine days.
C-Span filmed the entire hour and a half. You will not be at all bored if you tune in. And that goes in spades if the lack of interest by the corporate media has left you wondering how it came about that America is fast losing its soul. You can find the video under the title, “Panel Holds Discussion on Guantanamo Detainees,” May 10, 10:00-11:30 in Rayburn B-354. Participants included: . .
The AP is beside itself with indignation that the DoJ got a bunch of their phone records—from a perfectly legal procedure using the Patriot Act. Oddly, they never had a problem with this sort of thing when it was happening to the public. I recall Jane Harman, when she was on the House Intelligence Committee, being furious that the Patriot Act was used to eavesdrop on her, although she had voted in favor the act—presuming, I imagine, that it would only be used on the common people, not on luminaries such as herself. I suppose some of the anger was because she was caught committing a crime.
Kevin Drum has a very good comment on this at Mother Jones:
The government has been obtaining phone records like this for over a decade now, and it’s been keeping their requests secret that entire time. Until now, the press has showed only sporadic interest in this. But not anymore. I expect media interest in terror-related pen register warrants to show a healthy spike this week.
That could be a good thing. It’s just too bad that it took monitoring of journalists to get journalists fired up about this.
Timothy also has a good column in the Washington Post:
On Monday the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.” But here’s what’s really scary: The Justice Department’s actions are likely perfectly legal.
U.S. law allows the government to engage in this type of surveillance—on media organizations or anyone else—without meaningful judicial oversight.The key here is a legal principle known as the “third party doctrine,” which says that users don’t have Fourth Amendment rights protecting information they voluntarily turn over to someone else. Courts have said that when you dial a phone number, you are voluntarily providing information to your phone company, which is then free to share it with the government.
This all dates back to a 1979 Supreme Court decision. Police had asked the phone company for information about the numbers dialed from a robbery suspect’s phone. The suspect objected, pointing to a famous 1967 ruling holding that the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to record the audio of a phone call. He argued that the same principle ought to apply when the government records information about the numbers a suspect dials.
The Supreme Court rejected this argument. “We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the court. He pointed out that telephone customers are used to seeing numbers they’ve dialed on their monthly telephone bill.
Blackmun’s reasoning may have turned on the fact that automatic dialing was a relatively new development in 1979. Previously, telephone users had to tell a human operator which number they wished to reach, making it plausible to regard the phone company as an active participant in the phone-dialing process, but a mere passive conduit in transmitting the phone call itself.
Technological progress has rendered this distinction increasingly dubious. For example, . . .
The editorial board of the NY Times asks the question in an editorial today:
It is time for President Obama to abandon his hopes of reaching a grand budget bargain with Republicans.
At every opportunity since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in reaching a compromise with the White House. For two years, they held sham negotiations with Democrats that only dragged down the economy with cuts; this year, they are refusing even to sit down at the table.
Mr. Obama hasn’t given up inviting the Republicans to join him in making the hard choices of governing, but he has been rebuffed each time. This year, in hopes of getting some support for modest tax increases on the rich, he even proposed a reduction in the cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. The events of the last few weeks should make it clear to him why that offer should be pulled from the table immediately. Consider:
- Shortly after Mr. Obama presented this idea to Republicans, more than a half-dozen of them began trashing it as too “draconian” and a “shocking attack on seniors.” For years, the party has demanded entitlement cuts, but the moment the president actually offered one, he was attacked. Then last Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, said that no grand bargain is possible because Democrats aren’t willing to make significant cuts to spending and entitlement programs. The Social Security cost-of-living change, he said, did not go far enough.
- Senate and House Republicans are refusing to meet with Democrats to negotiate over the budgets passed by each chamber. Four times in the last two weeks, Senate leaders have proposed beginning a conference committee to hash out a federal budget; four times they have been blocked by Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said they were afraid the committee might reach an agreement to raise both taxes on the rich and the debt ceiling, which are, of course, the Democrats’ stated goals. Knowing that their positions would be deeply unpopular among the public if their stubbornness were exposed in an open committee, Republicans would simply prefer not to talk at all.
- Instead of negotiation, Republicans cling to their strategy of extorting budget demands by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, the House passed a stunningly dangerous bill that would allow foreign and domestic bondholders to be paid if Republicans forced a government default, while cutting off all other government payments except Social Security benefits. The bill has no possibility of becoming law, but its passage was a deliberate thumb in the eye to Mr. Obama, business leaders and those who say the debt ceiling should not be used for political leverage.
Republican lawmakers have become reflexive in rejecting every extended hand from the administration, even if the ideas were ones that they themselves once welcomed. Under the circumstances, Mr. Obama would be best advised to stop making peace offerings. Only when the Republican Party feels public pressure to become a serious partner can the real work of governing begin.
And where is the FDA in this? Laura Fraser reports at OnEarth.org:
You probably wouldn’t expect to find pesticides in your toothpaste or your gym socks, but they might be in there all the same. And the vast majority of those pesticides have made it into everyday products without adequate oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because they’ve been approved through a bureaucratic loophole known as “conditional registration,” which means they haven’t been fully tested to ensure that they pose no threat to human health or the environment, as required by U.S. law.
Most of us think of pesticides as the chemicals that get sprayed on weeds or used to kill rodents and bugs, but they’re actually found in everything from cosmetics to food containers, as well as antimicrobial textiles (such as the exercise shirt you might have worn to the gym this morning). By killing bacteria and other microorganisms, pesticides can help clothes resist stains or help containers keep food fresh longer. But some have also proven to cause health concerns in humans, kill trees, birds, bees, and fish, or do other unintended harm to the environment.
The EPA has been responsible for registering pesticides since 1972, and during that time, 90,000 have been allowed on the market. A significant number of those — just over 25,000, according to the EPA — were initially approved through the conditional registration process. An internal report by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs shows that of the more than 16,000 pesticides allowed on the market as of 2010, about 11,000 of them were conditionally registered. Because of the agency’s poor record-keeping and flawed procedures, it remains unclear how many of these conditionally registered pesticides have ever gone through the full gamut of safety testing required by law.
“The dirty little secret of the EPA is that almost every pesticide gets put on the market while the agency is looking the other way,” says Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “That’s not good for consumers, and it’s not the intent of the regulations.”
By law, in order to register and sell a pesticide, companies are supposed to go through a process than can last several years; it includes public comment, reviews of scientific studies, and evaluations by the agency’s in-house science experts. The fast-track conditional registration process was intended to be used only under rare circumstances — when a product is nearly identical to one already on the market, for instance, or when the EPA needs to approve a new pesticide immediately to prevent a disease outbreak or other public health emergency (a new treatment for bedbugs, for example).
No one knew the extent to which the EPA had been abusing the conditional registration rules until 2008, when the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) began asking questions about why nanosilver, an antimicrobial made of extremely tiny bits of silver and used to kill bacteria in products such as athletic gear and baby blankets, had been granted conditional registration.
That year, Swiss manufacturer HeiQ had applied to the EPA for permission to use nanosilver in textiles, including clothing and bedsheets. NRDC scientists were concerned that nanosilver might be more toxic than regular silver — which is not very harmful to humans, but toxic and persistent in aquatic environments — because its tiny size allows it to travel into cells, organs, and blood, with potentially dangerous, but poorly understood, health effects. A 2010 internal EPA report on nanosilver notes: “the same property that makes it lethal to bacteria may render it toxic to human cells.”
“Until we understand the risks of nanosilver, we really shouldn’t be wearing it in our clothing and bedding,” says NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. Chemist Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Brain Chemistry, agrees that more studies are needed, especially because nanosilver is widely used in consumer products. The effects of nanosilver on human health are not well understood, “which is not to say there are no concerns,” says Mulvihill, who adds, “It’s very clear silver is bad for the environment.” Silver bioaccumulates and is toxic to single-celled organisms and aquatic invertebrates; a 2010 study found that runoff containing silver particles dramatically reduced the reproductive capabilities of mollusks in San Francisco Bay. Products like nanosilver washing machines, which kill bacteria with nanosilver ions embedded in the machinery, could also damage water organisms with their runoff.
“Do I really need nanosilver in my jeans or Tupperware?” Mulvihill asks. “I don’t think so. I can just wash them.”
In response to HeiQ’s 2008 request to use nanosilver, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel recognized that the effects of nanosilver are different from regular silver. The panel said its regulations would require the company to produce numerous studies on the specific health effects of nanosilver before it could be registered for use as a pesticide.
Then the agency went ahead and allowed the company to use nanosilver in its products anyway. . . .
Did you just find out your 401(k) is leaking 8 percent in a hodgepodge of Wall Street management fees, transactions costs, sales commissions, and marketing schemes. Maybe you did the math and realized your account value, without your new additions, is still where it was in 2007. Or did you just check BrightScope and find out that your 401(k) is so abysmal that you’ll need 18 additional years of work to make up for the $215,500 in lost retirement savings.
Or maybe you tuned in to the April 23 Frontline documentary on PBS to learn that it is quite possible for Wall Street to gobble up two-thirds of your retirement savings in your 401(k) while keeping you in the dark for the next 50 years.
If so, there’s no reason to seethe in silence. The U.S. Department of Labor wants to hear from you about a potential plan to move you from the clutches of Wall Street to the warm embrace of the insurance industry where companies like AIG – that needed a $182 billion bailout from the U.S. taxpayer to avoid defaulting on its annuity payouts to widows and orphans around the world – would be able to take over the slimmed down assets in your 401(k) in exchange for the promise of a fixed income stream in retirement.
The U.S. Department of Labor is nothing if not persistent. It rolled out this same idea back in 2010 and received a flood of hate mail for its effort. On February 2, 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Treasury published a notice in the Federal Register asking for public comment on a multitude of issues pertaining to 401(k) plans. Three of the requests for comment were posed as follows: . . .
I found Eisler’s entire column good—read the whole thing. Quite enlightening, including a clarifying example/scenario. The column begins:
Recently I watched a terrific exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Bill Mahr on Mahr’s show Real Time. Mahr was arguing that there’s something peculiarly violence-prone about Islam; Greenwald countered (devastatingly, in my opinion) that Muslim violence is likely caused more by US imperialism than by anything intrinsic to Islam itself.
This led to an odd post by David Atkins at the excellent blog Hullabaloo (Digby, who runs Hullabaloo, has her own response to Atkins here) in which Atkins argues that because we haven’t seen in other countries and cultures subjected to US imperialism the kinds of reactions we’ve seen in the Islamic world, it means Islamic violence is not being caused by US imperialism – quod erat demonstrandum.
There’s something that’s been bugging me about Atkins’ post (bugging me beyond the fact that he attributed to Greenwald something that not only did Greenwald not say — “Imperialism is to blame for everything” — but that Greenwald specifically and repeatedly disclaimed). What’s been bugging me is Atkins’ logic. Or, more precisely, his lack of it.
I tweeted that the shorter version of Atkins is “If blowback doesn’t happen everywhere, it can’t happen anywhere,” and that’s part of what I find illogical about his overall argument. But here’s another way of understanding it.
Suppose I walked up to a dozen people at random and . . .
Natasha Lennard writes in Salon—and I am noticing more and more that I always like what she writes—a warning of sorts:
When NYPD officer Kha Dang took to the stand this week in the landmark federal trial challenging stop-and-frisk practices, he couldn’t have known how revealing his testimony would be. Indeed, based on his comments, it’s striking that that the police department would allow Dang — a so-called stop-and-frisk “all star” for the large numbers of stops he carried out — on the stand at all.
As Ryan Devereaux reported for the Guardian, in the third quarter of 2009 alone “Dang made a total of six arrests out of his 127 stops. He wrote one summons. He found contraband once. He never recovered any weapons and he only stopped people of color, primarily African Americans, 115 times to be exact. He never stopped a white person.” Dang’s record here is stunning enough alone. More telling still is the justifications he recounted to the court for making many of his stops, referring to repeated observation of individuals’ general behavioral patterns, including “furtive movements” — a vague policing phrase regularly stretched beyond the limits of all reasonableness. “We have a general idea of their behavior,” Dang testified.
The weak justification given for the regular harassment of young black men in New York is noteworthy. But waiting and watching for “weird behavior”and certain behavioral patterns is not just a flawed NYPD policy — it’s increasingly the sort of preemptive and prefiguring policing that underpins national security policy too, from how the FBI chooses sting targets to the use of drone strikes to target unidentified individuals displaying “signature” behaviors. From police stops in Brooklyn to drone strikes in Pakistan, the “disposition matrix” applies.
Devereaux’s report on Dang’s testimony reveals the sort of racial and behavioral profiling applied to police stops:
Dang told the court… he would monitor the same individuals going about their lives on a daily basis. If he noticed anything out of the ordinary, what he called “weird behavior,” he might make a stop. When asked what might count as “weird behavior”, Dang said: “Furtive movement would be one of them.” The phrase has come up repeatedly in the course of the trial. Along with high crime area, furtive movement is the justification officers most frequently check off on departmental stop forms known as UF250s. Critics say it a dangerously vague term that allows officers overly broad discretion in conducting stops.
… “Has anyone asked you why you only stopped people of color?” [plaintiff attorney Bruce] Corey asked. Nobody had, Dang replied. Corey asked Dang if his supervisors had raised concerns about the fact that he did not recover any weapons during the period in question, again he said no.
The model of officers making stops here maps neatly onto the mechanisms that go behind CIA drone strikes known as “signature strikes.” Watching and waiting using drone technology, the CIA do not launch signature strikes against identified al-Qaida suspects (just as nearly all NYPD stops are not carried out on identified crime suspects) but rather, as Pro Publica reported, “drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other ‘signatures.’”
Sarah Knuckey, NYU lawyer and special adviser to the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, stressed at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ hearing on lethal drone strikes last Wednesday that the reliance on “vague and expansive” legal concepts and rubric makes some nonsense of claims that strikes are precision driven and “targeted.” In her testimony to Congress, noted here, Knuckey said: . . .
Continue reading. It’s important.
On Thursday, Wrigley announced that it would be pulling its controversial new “Alert Energy” gum — each stick of which contains as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee — from the market out of “respect” for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the agencyinvestigates the public health risks associated with pumping caffeine into everyday foods and drink. With energy products and other potentially harmful foods high in sugar, salt, and fat increasingly under public scrutiny, it’s worth asking: why can’t the FDA do more to crack down on these additives? And why does it take so long to get food makers to comply with regulations when they do?
Answering that requires a brief foray into the history of the American food safety regimen. 1958 was a seminal year for food oversight, seeing the passage of the Food Additives Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the creation of the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) List. Under the Food Additives Amendment, “any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive and is subject to pre-market approval by FDA unless the use of the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).” So if a substance is on the GRAS exemption list, then food makers can use it to their heart’s content without proving its safety, unless specifically prevented from doing so by an FDA regulation.
The GRAS list contains over 700 items, many which have been there since 1958 — and taking an item off the GRAS list once it’s on is difficult. GRAS items are specifically defined as substances that are “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of [their] intended use.” Consequently, revoking a substance’s GRAS designation requires considerable expert consensus that an item is not safe for its intended use.
One might ask how salts, sugars, trans fats, and caffeine don’t fit that bill considering widespread evidence that those substances increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, thereby harming public wellness and increasing U.S. health care costs. In fact, government watchdogs and medical groups such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have issued several calls for the FDA to crack down on those very ingredients.
But an outright ban on any of those substances (other than trans fats) is impossible — and undesirable — since the majority of food items require them in at least some amount. Rather, it’s excess consumption that makes the substances potentially dangerous. That’s where the FDA can step in by issuing regulatory rules that either set targets or impose reductions in harmful food content. But that’s also where they meet their greatest obstacle: the powerful food lobby.
“It’s corporate power,” said Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in an interview with ThinkProgress. “For something like salt, or partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), or sugar, there’s huge industries behind those substances. First there’s the manufacturers themselves, and then there’s the food companies that use their products. All those companies would be discomfited by an FDA ban or regulation, so they can then go to Congress and say, ‘Look at what the FDA is trying to do! It’s killing our business.’” Congress can then put pressure on the FDA by “cutting [its] appropriations or putting a rider in an FDA bill preventing it from imposing certain regulations,” according to Dr. Jacobson.
That sort of arm-twisting tends to work — even when an FDA action is simply advisory and lacks enforcement power. For instance, Dr. Jacobson explained to ThinkProgress that in the 1990s, “[t]he government came up with draft voluntary guidelines for foods marketed to young children. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association said its highest priority was to kill the voluntary guidelines –- and this wasn’t even a regulation, just guidelines!” Congress ended up siding with the grocery manufacturers over the children. “The public health becomes a side issue,” said Dr. Jacobson.
And even when the FDA succeeds in taking regulatory action, it can get held up for years — and even decades — by lawsuits and lobbying campaigns launched by Big Food companies, as well as . . .
I found it interesting that corporations fight even voluntary guidelines: they want no restrictions whatsoever, but to do as they please. And it’s pretty clear that public health and public safety count for nothing with corporations and Congress (in general).
Of course, the FDA is ineffectual for other reasons—such as falling under control of the industries it is supposed to regulate. Aviva Shen reports at ThinkProgress:
In a fiery decision on Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman denied the Obama administration’s motion to delay an order to immediately allow over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women of all ages. After Korman initially ordered in April that the so-called “morning-after pill” be available to all women and girls without a prescription, the FDA instead decided to lower the age limit to teens 15 and up rather than 17. However, those 15- and 16-year-olds will only have over-the-counter access to one brand of emergency contraception pill, Teva Pharmaceutical’s Plan B One-Step, thanks to what Korman called a “sweetheart arrangement” between the FDA and Teva.
Blasting the Obama administration’s argument as “an insult to the intelligence of women,” Korman attacked the FDA’s decision to lower the age restriction for Plan B rather than comply with his order to allow all women access to any brand of emergency contraception. The judge accused the administration of delaying his ruling so as to give Teva Pharmaceutical sole access to the market of 15- to 17-year olds without a prescription. Generic versions of Plan B, meanwhile, will stay behind the pharmacy counter for this age group.
Korman also noted that Teva will drive up the price of the pill now that it has a monopoly on young women in need:
While this proposal was a boon to Teva, it did little to eliminate the practical obstructions in obtaining emergency contraception to women of child-bearing age whether over or under age 15. On the contrary, Teva will use its privileged marketing status and exclusivity to increase the cost of the drug. The price of Plan B One-Step under the new marketing regime is expected to be $60, significantly more than the one- or two-pill generic version, and could conceivably go higher, if only to accommodate the more expensive packing, age-verification tags, and anti-theft technology that the new marketing arrangement would require.
As Teva profits from the Obama administration’s arbitrary age restriction, the burden on women seeking emergency contraception will only grow larger. Younger teens and undocumented women unable to prove their age with government-issued ID will still not have access, and may not be able to afford the new cost. As Korman points out, the Teva-FDA deal still requires Plan B to be sold over the counter at stores with on-site pharmacies, even though many women do not live near such facilities. The decision also cites a survey of 943 pharmacies in 5 cities, which found that only 4.7 percent stayed open 24 hours. Given the time-sensitive and often urgent need for emergency contraception, limiting the hours and locations where women can buy the drug could have serious consequences.
Moreover, there is no medical reason to limit access to the morning-after pill. Despite the Obama administration’s concern that it could be “dangerous” to young teens, an enormous body of research has demonstrated emergency contraception is safer than aspirin for women of all ages.
Obama: the continuing disappointment.
Nick Gillespie in The Daily Beast:
While a high school student at Honolulu’s elite Punahou School, Barack Obama was a high-flying member of a pot-smoking, party-hearty crew that called itself “the Choom Gang.” As biographer David Maraniss revealed in last year’s Barack Obama: The Story the future president “had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!,’ and took an extra hit.”
In his current trip to meet with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, Obama will once again be talking about illegal drugs and interceptions—and he will almost certainly continue his long habit of bogarting other people’s joints. As CNN summarizes it, one of the “key issues” of the trip is to strengthen efforts to stop the flow of pot, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs from Mexico into the United States.
Despite thinly sourced stories by Obama boosters that the president in his second term “will pivot to the drug war” that he privately considers a “failure,” there’s every reason to believe any new initiatives coming out of this Mexico trip will disappoint the liberals, libertarians, and smattering of conservatives who took Barack Obama seriously when he questioned longstanding drug policies.
Once upon a time, Obama seemed to entertain significant reforms to laws and practices that have had no appreciable effect on the availability or use of illegal drugs but have cost trillions of dollars, swelled state and federal prison populations, and increased black-market violence in the United States and Mexico.
When running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama said, “We need to rethink how we are operating in the drug wars and I think currently we are not doing a good job.” In 2006, while on a book tour for The Audacity of Hope and testing the waters of a presidential run, he was comfortable enough discussing his personal experiences to joke, “I inhaled frequently…that was the whole point.” In 2008, he said that he wouldn’t use federal resources to target medical marijuana providers and users in states that had made the stuff legal—a promise reiterated by Attorney General Eric Holder shortly after taking office in 2009.
Yet for all that, Obama has governed not merely as a standard-issue White House drug warrior but as a particularly hard-headed and hard-hearted one. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and polls routinely show 70 percent to 80 percent of Americans support the stuff, but the Obama administration has actually outpaced the Bush administration when it comes to dispensary raids. As my Reason colleague Mike Riggs has reported, the Obama administration has also continued or expanded programs that funnel billions of dollars to oppressive drug-war operations in Asia and Mexico (where the results have included “multiple reports of forced disappearances by the army, navy, and police.”)
In several public settings, including a 2009 online town hall, Obama literally laughed off questions of marijuana legalization before emphatically stating that taxing and regulating weed was out of the question: “The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow the economy.” The president’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, continues to insist that “legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary.” . . .
Continue reading. What does Obama stand for? What constituency is he working to serve?
Chris Hedges writes in Salon:
London—A tiny tip of the vast subterranean network of governmental and intelligence agencies from around the world dedicated to destroying WikiLeaks and arresting its founder, Julian Assange, appears outside the red-brick building on Hans Crescent Street that houses the Ecuadorean Embassy. Assange, the world’s best-known political refugee, has been in the embassy since he was offered sanctuary there last June. British police in black Kevlar vests are perched night and day on the steps leading up to the building, and others wait in the lobby directly in front of the embassy door. An officer stands on the corner of a side street facing the iconic department store Harrods, half a block away on Brompton Road. Another officer peers out the window of a neighboring building a few feet from Assange’s bedroom at the back of the embassy. Police sit round-the-clock in a communications van topped with an array of antennas that presumably captures all electronic forms of communication from Assange’s ground-floor suite.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), or Scotland Yard, said the estimated cost of surrounding the Ecuadorean Embassy from June 19, 2012, when Assange entered the building, until Jan. 31, 2013, is the equivalent of $4.5 million.
Britain has rejected an Ecuadorean request that Assange be granted safe passage to an airport. He is in limbo. It is, he said, like living in a “space station.”
“The status quo, for them, is a loss,” Assange said of the US-led campaign against him as we sat in his small workroom, cluttered with cables and computer equipment. He had a full head of gray hair and gray stubble on his face and was wearing a traditional white embroidered Ecuadorean shirt. “The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from US government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.”
“But they have failed,” he went on. “They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on September 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself and the organization more generally.”
Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks, by making public in 2010 half a million internal documents from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of US helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, effectively exposed the empire’s hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence and its use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation. WikiLeaks shone a spotlight into the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this it has become empire’s prey. Those around the globe with the computer skills to search out the secrets of empire are now those whom empire fears most. If we lose this battle, if these rebels are defeated, it means the dark night of corporate totalitarianism. If we win, if the corporate state is unmasked, it can be destroyed.
US government officials quoted in Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Saturday Age described the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” The scope of the operation has also been gleaned from statements made during Manning’s pretrial hearing. The US Department of Justice will apparently pay the contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Virginia, more than $2 million this year alone for a computer system that, from the tender, appears designed to handle the prosecution documents. The government line item refers only to “WikiLeaks Software and Hardware Maintenance.”
The lead government prosecutor in the Manning case, Maj. Ashden Fein, has told the court that the FBI file that deals with the leak of government documents through WikiLeaks has “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents.” This does not include a huge volume of material accumulated by a grand jury investigation. Manning, Fein has said, represents only 8,741 pages or 636 different documents in that classified FBI file.
There are no divisions among government departments or the two major political parties over what should be Assange’s fate. “I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking for the Obama administration, said during a 2010 press briefing.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and then-Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, said in a joint letter to the US attorney general calling for Assange’s prosecution: “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned…”
Republican Candice S. Miller, a US representative from Michigan, said in the House: “It is time that the Obama administration treats WikiLeaks for what it is—a terrorist organization, whose continued operation threatens our security. Shut it down. Shut it down. It is time to shut down this terrorist, this terrorist Web site, WikiLeaks. Shut it down, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.”
At least a dozen American governmental agencies, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service, are assigned to the WikiLeaks case, while the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are assigned to track down WikiLeaks’ supposed breaches of security. The global assault—which saw Australia threaten to revoke Assange’s passport—is part of the terrifying metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.
The dragnet has swept up any person or organization that fits the profile of those with the technical skills and inclination to burrow into the archives of power and disseminate it to the public. It no longer matters if they have committed a crime. . .
Continue reading. Arresting people to stifle dissent, even when those arrested were guilty of no crime, is the mark of an authoritarian government that is sliding toward totalitarianism, in which the government may not be criticized and government wrongdoing cannot be exposed. We’re getting there.
This article is important, and there’s a lot more in it. Please read it all.
Peter Van Buren has a good post at Tom Dispatch. Here it is with a preface by Tom:
Indefinite detention of the innocent and guilty alike, without any hope of charges, trial, or release: this is now the American way. Most Americans, however, may not care to take that in, not even when the indefinitely detained go on a hunger strike. That act has certainly gotten Washington’s and the media’s collective attention. After all, could there be anything more extreme than striking against your own body to make a point? Suicide by strike? It’s the ultimate statement of protest and despair. Certainly, the strikers have succeeded in pushing Guantanamo out of the netherworld of non-news and onto front pages, into presidential news conferences, and to the top of the TV newscasts. That, in a word, is extraordinary. But what exactly do those prisoners, many now being force-fed, want to highlight? Here’s one thing: despite the promise he made on entering the Oval office, President Obama has obviously not made much of an effort to close the prison, which, as he said recently, “hurts us, in terms of our international standing… [and] is a recruitment tool for extremists.”
If Congress has been thoroughly recalcitrant when it comes to closing Guantanamo, the president’s idea of what shutting down that prison meant proved curious indeed. His plan involved transferring many of the prisoners from Cuba, that crown jewel of the offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice that the Bush administration set up in January 2002, to a super-max-style prison in Illinois (“Gitmo North”). That would mean, of course, transferring indefinite detention from the offshore world of extraordinary rendition, black sites, and torture directly into the heart of the American justice system. Obama himself has indicated that at least 50 of the prisoners can, in his view, never be released or tried (in part because confessions were tortured out of some of them). They would be kept in what he, in the past, politely termed “prolonged detention.”
Here’s a second thing the strikers undoubtedly wanted to highlight and it’s even harder to take in: Guantanamo now holds 86 prisoners (out of the 166 caged there) who have been carefully vetted by the U.S. military, the FBI, the CIA, and so on, and found to have done nothing for which they could be charged or should be imprisoned. All 86 have been cleared for release — years late, often after brutal interrogation experiences sometimes involving torture. The problem: there is nowhere to release them to, especially since the majority of them are Yemenis and President Obama has imposed a moratorium on transferring any prisoner to Yemen.
Then there are the prisoners who may indeed have done something criminal in regard to the U.S., but had confessions tortured out of them which won’t hold up in court. They are among the ones who will never be brought to trial, but never cleared for release either. In other words, indefinite detention, something anathema to the American justice system, will for the conceivable future be us. The fact that relatively few Americans seem fazed by this should be startling. No charges, no trials, but never getting out of prison: that would once have been associated with the practices of a totalitarian state.
We know one thing: no one, not George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, or other top officials involved in setting up such a global system of injustice, sweeping up the innocent with the guilty, and subjecting them to horrors without end (including now force-feeding) will ever be brought to justice in an American court, nor will anyone involved in the system of rendition, torture, or abuse. In the Obama years, while indefinite detention remained a grim American reality, the government, as TomDispatch regular and former State Department officer Peter Van Buren himself experienced, honed other methods for punishing those it was unhappy with, especially whistleblowers of all sorts.
One of those methods might be called “indefinite suspension.” Instead of not being charged, you are charged repeatedly and dragged endlessly — your life in a state of suspension — through various bureaucratic judicial processes, the actual courts, and endless appeals thereof, so that even if sooner or later you come out the other side exonerated, you will still have been punished for your “crimes.” Let Peter Van Buren explain this mockery of “justice.” Tom
Seven Years, Untold Dollars to Silence One Man
By Peter Van Buren
What do words mean in a post-9/11 world? Apart from the now clichéd Orwellian twists that turn brutal torture into mere enhanced interrogation, the devil is in the details. Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistleblowing. He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistleblowers.
First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.
And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel. Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistleblowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes.
The Whistle Is Blown
MacLean joined the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) in 2001 after stints with the Air Force and the Border Patrol. In July 2003, all marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which oversees FAMS, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to the cell phones of the marshals cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. MacLean became concerned that cancelling missions during a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public. He complained to his supervisor and to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, but each responded that nothing could be done.
It was then that he decided to blow the whistle, hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to reinstate the marshals’ flights. So MacLean talked to a reporter, who broadcast a story criticizing the TSA’s decision and, after 11 members of Congress joined in the criticism, it reversed itself. At this point, MacLean had not been identified as the source of the leak and so carried on with his job.
A year later, he appeared on TV in disguise, criticizing the TSA dress code and its special boarding policies, which he believed allowed marshals to be easily identified by other passengers. This time, the TSA recognized his voice and began an investigation that revealed he had also released the 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006. Although the agency had not labeled that message as “sensitive security information” (SSI) when it was sent in 2003, in August 2006, months after MacLean’s firing, it issued a retroactive order stating that the text’s content was indeed SSI.
A Whistleblower’s Catch-22
That disclosing the contents of an unclassified message could get someone fired for disclosing classified information is the sort of topsy-turvy situation which could only exist in the post-9/11 world of the American national security state.
OTOH, the pharmaceutical companies are delighted. Here’s an article by Megan Scudellari in The Scientist:
Vioxx was on the market for 5 years before manufacturer Merck voluntarily withdrew the arthritis medication in 2004 due to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. An estimated 88,000–139,000 Americans had heart attacks while taking Vioxx, and as many as 55,000 died. Soon after, other painkillers in the same class of medicines came under scrutiny, including Bextra, which Pfizer removed from the market in 2005 upon the recommendation of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Americans cried out for better oversight of approved drugs. Then, in 2007, a cardiologist in Cleveland showed that Avandia, a blockbuster antidiabetic drug, increased the risk of heart attacks. An FDA advisory committee reviewed the evidence and found the claim to be true, but voted to keep Avandia on the market because of its efficacy, while mandating that the drug carry the FDA’s strictest warning label. The cries became louder.
Today, almost a decade since Vioxx was taken off the market and 6 years since Avandia made headlines, the national system for monitoring approved drugs has not gotten any better, critics say—despite the 2007 FDA Amendments Act (FDAAA) that granted the agency more power to oversee drugs once they hit the market.
“I don’t think there have been any significant changes,” says David Resnik, a bioethicist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “I don’t think anything has improved at all.”
Postmarket drug safety is a hot-button issue not only because of high-profile drug scares, but also because of accelerating efforts to get drugs to market sooner. Last July, for example, Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which among other things created a new designation called a “breakthrough therapy.” Though the details of the new designation are still being worked out, it is considered one step above “fast track” status, and mandates that the FDA work closely with drug developers to expedite a breakthrough drug’s path to the clinic. A handful of experimental drugs have been granted the status, and at least one company, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is launching shorter-than-normal Phase 3 trials—24 weeks instead of 48—for a combination of two cystic fibrosis drugs that received the designation in January. . .
I assume that Wall Street made the choice of Jack Lew and Obama went along as ordered. Pam Martens writes of the latest wrinkle in Wall Street on Parade:
That shady offshore tax haven known as Ugland House in the Cayman Islands strikes again. After consuming a chunk of Jack Lew’s Senate confirmation hearing, with Senators grilling Lew on why he owned an investment housed in this offshore tax dodge while working for the Obama administration, the Cayman Islands’ address has surfaced once again in the foreclosure settlement scandal.
On April 30 of this year, just 18 days after the first wave of checks from the Federal government’s settlement of the so-called Independent Foreclosure Review began arriving in the mail – and bouncing – Citigroup Venture Capital International (CVCI), Lew’s former Ugland House investment, bought a large stake in the company that was mailing the checks, SourceHOV, parent of Rust Consulting. As reported by Naked Capitalism, the ownership stake was made despite Citigroup being one of the banks in the foreclosure settlement.
After correcting the humiliating problem of bouncing foreclosure victims’ checks, Rust Consulting came under fire yesterday for paying out 96,000 checks on behalf of claims against Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley with erroneous amounts that undervalued the claim. The Federal Reserve said in a statement: “The checks were for amounts that were smaller than the amounts that the Federal Reserve had specifically instructed Rust to send those borrowers.”
When Jack Lew left his executive position at Citigroup at the end of 2008 and joined Hillary Clinton’s State Department as Deputy Secretary of State, he retained his investment in CVCI, a $7 billion private equity fund. According to his January 11, 2009 financial disclosure report, his CVCI account at that point had a value of between $100,000 and $250,000. As indicated on the document below, released as part of Lew’s Senate confirmation hearing, he still owned $19,470 of this foreign hedge fund investment in calendar year 2010 while working in a high level, highly sensitive State Department post. In Lew’s confirmation hearing in February, he said he had since sold the position at a loss.
According to the General Accountability Office, Ugland House is home to 18,857 corporations. In 2009, President Obama called it either “the largest building in the world or the largest tax scam in the world.”
Lew was also challenged during his confirmation hearing on the fact that he accepted a $940,000 bonus from Citigroup in early 2009, even though the insolvent company was subsisting solely on taxpayer bailout funds at that time. Lew was Chief Operating Officer of the division that brought down the bank. According to public records, on January 14 of this year, just four days after Lew was nominated for Treasury Secretary, Citigroup completed a mortgage refinancing for Lew, changing his mortgage rate to 3.625 percent for a 30-year mortgage of $610,000 and simultaneously providing a $200,000 home equity loan at an unstated amount of interest.
Another issue for Lew in his confirmation hearing was . . .
Continue reading. This is one sleazy guy. Obama seems not to be able to pick people well—or maybe he does such choices with an eye to his own personal benefit down the line.