Later On

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

Archive for April 21st, 2009

Plans to torture made before Senate approval

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A story in the Washington Post:

Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods — and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.

Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.

The findings are contained in a Senate Armed Services Committee report scheduled for release today that also documents multiple warnings — from legal and trained interrogation experts — that the techniques could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law.

One Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the program warned in 2002 that coercion "usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain," according to the Senate report. A second official, briefed on plans to use aggressive techniques on detainees, was quoted the same year as asking: "Wouldn’t that be illegal?"

Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said…

Continue reading.

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21 April 2009 at 8:19 pm

More details spilling out

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Two stories just posted in the NY Times:

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use:

The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said…

Continue reading. And there’s also this story:

Report Gives New Detail on Approval of Brutal Techniques:

A newly declassified Congressional report released Tuesday outlined the most detailed evidence yet that the military’s use of harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects was approved at high levels of the Bush administration.

The report focused solely on interrogations carried out by the military, not those conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency at its secret prisons overseas. It rejected claims by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others that Pentagon policies played no role in harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or other military facilities.

The 232-page report, the product of an 18-month inquiry, was approved on Nov. 20 by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but has since been under Pentagon review for declassification. Some of the findings were made public in a Dec. 12 article in The New York Times; a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed the report at the time as “unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation.”

The Senate report documented how some of the techniques used by the military at prisons in Afghanistan and at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as in Iraq — stripping detainees, placing them in “stress positions” or depriving them of sleep — originated in a military program known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, or SERE, intended to train American troops to resist abusive enemy interrogations.

According to the Senate investigation, a military behavioral scientist and a colleague who had witnessed SERE training proposed its use at Guantánamo in October 2002, as pressure was rising “to get ‘tougher’ with detainee interrogations.” Officers there sought authorization, and Mr. Rumsfeld approved 15 interrogation techniques.

The report showed that Mr. Rumsfeld’s authorization was  …

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21 April 2009 at 8:00 pm

Why I want Dianne Feinstein out of the Senate

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And, if possible, out of politics altogether. The Associated Press:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., offered to help the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. secure federal funds last year, just days before the agency awarded a contract to Feinstein’s husband’s firm in the housing foreclosure crisis.

Under FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, the contract went to CB Richard Ellis Group, the biggest commercial real estate services company in the world. The Washington Times first reported details of the deal Tuesday…

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21 April 2009 at 6:17 pm

EPA proposes cuts in mercury emissions from cement plants

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This is definitely a step in the right direction. Already our marine food supply is heavily contaminated with mercury. Renee Schoof reports for McClatchy:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday called for the nation’s first limits on mercury emissions from the more than 100 cement factories across the U.S.

The proposed new rule would require cement kilns to add pollution controls that would reduce mercury emissions by 81 percent by 2013. The rule also would reduce emissions of soot, hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide from the production of cement.

Mercury is contained in the raw material used in kilns and in the coal used for power. Once released into the air, mercury travels over wide distances and settles in soil and water. People are exposed to mercury mainly from eating contaminated fish.

The toxin can damage the brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to fetuses and small children.

Environmental groups sued the EPA over a decade ago to try to force it to impose the emissions controls. The agency agreed to set new standards in court documents last year. It announced the new regulations late Tuesday.

A report by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which was involved in the cases, said that the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. is in Midlothian, Texas. Other plants are scattered around the country.

The EPA said in a statement that cement kilns were the fourth largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. In addition to setting the first limits on mercury from existing kilns, the new rules also would tighten the limits for new kilns, it said.

Continue reading.

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21 April 2009 at 6:11 pm

Interesting development in Dept of Agriculture

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Eddie Gehman Kohan notes in Obama Foodorama:

The USDA has tragically and historically had a series of racially discriminatory policies in place, which the President and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have pledged to address. Black farmers in particular have endured decades of economic discrimination from USDA policies, and have entered into a series of lawsuits and class action suits to address financial inequities. The most high-profile of these, known as the Pigford lawsuit, was settled in 1999, and the government paid out close to $1 billion in damages on 16,000 claims. But lawyers, activist groups, and farmers have worked for years to reopen the case, because many black and small farmers missed the deadline for filing; the deadline was swift, and many weren’t even aware that they could file. Dr. John W. Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, has been leading the charge to reopen Pigford.

In August of 2007, he scored an important ally: Then-candidate Obama, while still an Illinois Senator, introduced Pigford legislation, which was incorporated into the 2008 Farm Bill. The costs were potentially huge: With an estimated 65,000 further claims pending, ultimate USDA payouts could be as much as $2 or 3 billion. (Photo above: Dr. Boyd meeting with then-candidate Obama, in May of 2008)

But of course, further payouts have been mired in the current budget considerations and, well, politics. Now that Mr. Obama is President, and working hard to re-boot the economy, the landscape for economic reparations has changed. Secretary Vilsack has said he’ll work with the Department of Justice to redress the economic issue, and today, White House budget spokesman Kenneth Baer went on the record with the AP to send out reassurances on the issue: "The president has been a leader on this issue since his days as a U.S. senator and is deeply committed to closing this painful chapter in our history."

The National Black Farmers Association isn’t waiting any longer, however. On March 28, they’re holding a rally at USDA headquarters on the National Mall, to call on President Obama and Secretary Vilsack to help rapidly seed change by paying out USDA funds. Dr. Boyd will speak, and a big turn out is expected.

Discrimination, Civil Rights And USDA: Some Background

It’s worth noting that many of the discriminatory issues endured by black farmers go all the way back to the Civil War era. Since then, policies towards black farmers …

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21 April 2009 at 6:04 pm

Is Inhofe the stupidest Senator alive?

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Possibly “yes.” ThinkProgress:

Yesterday on the Senate floor, Sen. James Inhofe announced that he intended to filibuster Obama’s nomination of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Inhofe’s announcement comes nearly three weeks after the Republican membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee boycotted Hamilton’s hearing claiming that “they had not been given sufficient time to prepare for the hearing.” Inhofe’s filibuster is surprising given the fact that Hamilton is generally viewed as representing “some of [Indiana’s] traditionally moderate strain.”

Inhofe does not appear to have explained his decision to filibuster in front of his colleagues on the floor of the Senate. But in statements that he entered into the Congressional Record, Inhofe cited a 2005 ruling in Hinrichs v. Bosman in which Hamilton found that the Indiana House of Representatives may open proceedings with “non-sectarian prayers” only. Inhofe called it “insane” that the ruling would allow payers to invoke the name of “Allah” but not “Jesus”:

INHOFE: Further, ruling on a postjudgment motion, Hamilton stated that invoking the name of “Allah” would not advance a particular religion or disparage another. So, praying to Allah would be perfectly acceptable. […]

I find this line of reasoning to be insane. Who in this body would not identify the name of “Allah” with the religion of Islam any less than they would identify the name of Jesus with Christianity?

But as Overruled notes, Hamilton’s ruling was not particularly novel. Rather, Hamilton was upholding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Marsh v. Chambers, which “held that legislatures can open their session with a non-sectarian prayer, and that such a prayer could invoke ‘God,'” as long as the prayer was not meant to “proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”

Hamilton found that “sectarian content of the substantial majority of official prayers took the prayers outside the safe harbor the Supreme Court recognized for inclusive, non-sectarian legislative prayers in Marsh v. Chambers.” As Hamilton explained in a post-judgment ruling, “‘Allah’ is used for ‘God’ in Arabic” and as such should be permitted:

The Arabic word “Allah” is used for “God” in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures. If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.

If and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.

Additionally, Inhofe’s vow to filibuster is surprising given his previous insistence that filibustering judicial nominees is “not only an illegitimate use of a senator’s power, but is also literally unconstitutional.” As Steve Benen notes, in 2003, “Inhofe went so far as to say any senator who would dare filibuster a judicial nominee would necessarily be violating their oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution.'”

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21 April 2009 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government, Law

Waterboarding is torture

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I have a commenter who asserts (without backing it up in any way) that waterboarding is not torture. I referred him to a column by Evan Wallach, a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, who teaches the law of war as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School. The column includes:

he United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government — whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community — has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."

Nielsen’s experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

In this case from the tribunal’s records, the victim was a prisoner in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies:

A towel was fixed under the chin and down over the face. Then many buckets of water were poured into the towel so that the water gradually reached the mouth and rising further eventually also the nostrils, which resulted in his becoming unconscious and collapsing like a person drowned. This procedure was sometimes repeated 5-6 times in succession.

The United States (like Britain, Australia and other Allies) pursued lower-ranking Japanese war criminals in trials before their own tribunals. As a general rule, the testimony was similar to Nielsen’s. Consider this account from a Filipino waterboarding victim:

Q: Was it painful?

A: Not so painful, but one becomes unconscious. Like drowning in the water.

Q: Like you were drowning?

A: Drowning — you could hardly breathe.

Here’s the testimony of two Americans imprisoned by the Japanese:

They would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness.

And from the second prisoner: They laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. . . . They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water.

As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.

More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners’ civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison…

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21 April 2009 at 3:44 pm

Bush-era rule expands FBI power

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Interesting story by Daphne Eviatar:

Veterans groups and conservatives roared last week when news broke that the FBI was targeting veterans in a broad probe of extremist groups. But little noise was made in December, when the Bush administration quietly granted the FBI wide-ranging authority to investigate individuals or groups, regardless of whether they are suspected of criminal activity.

The Attorney General guidelines, proposed last summer and adopted by Attorney General Michael Mukasey, appear to be particularly problematic. Although in the past these guidelines required that the FBI have at least some factual basis for believing that the target of an investigation was engaged in criminal activity, in December 2008, Mukasey instituted new guidelines that authorized the FBI to conduct “assessments” of suspects without requiring any factual basis for suspicion.

Specifically, the Mukasey Guidelines, purportedly “to prevent future terrorist acts against the American people,” allow the FBI to use physical surveillance; interview a person’s neighbors, landlord, colleagues or friends; recruit and assign informants to attend political or other meetings under false pretenses – essentially to act as an undercover spy; and to retrieve personal data from commercial databases; all without having a factual basis to believe that the target of the investigation has done anything wrong.

“I’m a former FBI agent and I can tell you it’s beyond bizarre,” said Michael German, policy counsel on National Security, Immigration and Privacy with the American Civil Liberties Union, and a 16-year veteran of the FBI.

The Attorney General Guidelines were first created in 1976 in the wake of the revelation of intelligence and law enforcement abuses during the Watergate era and revealed by the Church Committee. “The guidelines always required articulable facts to support a reasonable suspicion that someone was violating the law,” said German. “That’s a very low standard.”

Similarly, the Code of Federal Regulations has long required that state and local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funding “collect information concerning an individual only if there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.”

Reasonable suspicion is much less than the standard for an arrest, which requires “probable cause.”

“But you need to articulate why you think this person deserves your attention,” said German. “I would say to FBI agents, if you can’t articulate why you’re investigating this person then you probably shouldn’t be out there.”

Under this new “assessments” authority, however, the FBI can recruit informants and send them, undercover, into any organization to spy on them. To critics, that seems eerily reminiscent of FBI counter-intelligence programs in the 1960s and early 70s, used to spy on political leaders and organizations that the government considered radical, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr…

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21 April 2009 at 3:14 pm

Cute: Jane Harman is now upset about wiretaps

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Glenn Greenwald:

Blue Dog Rep. Jane Harman — once the most vigorous Democratic cheerleader of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program — is rip-roarin’ angry today.  Apparently, her private conversations were eavesdropped on by the U.S. Government!  This is a grave outrage that, as she told Andrea Mitchell just moments ago, demands a probing investigation:

That’s what I asked Attorney General Holder to do — to release any tapes, I don’t know whether they were legally made or not, of my conservations about this matter  . . . and to hope that he will investigate whether other members of Congress or other innocent Americans might have been subject to this same treatment.  I call it an abuse of power in the letter I wrote him this morning. . . .

I’m just very disappointed that my country — I’m an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years.  I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, and I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back.  I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, who may not be aware, as I was not, that someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.

So if I understand this correctly — and I’m pretty sure I do — when the U.S. Government eavesdropped for years on American citizens with no warrants and in violation of the law, that was “both legal and necessary” as well as “essential to U.S. national security,” and it was the “despicable” whistle-blowers (such as Thomas Tamm) who disclosed that crime and the newspapers which reported it who should have been criminally investigated, but not the lawbreaking government officials.  But when the U.S. Government legally and with warrants eavesdrops on Jane Harman, that is an outrageous invasion of privacy and a violent assault on her rights as an American citizen, and full-scale investigations must be commenced immediately to get to the bottom of this abuse of power.  Behold Jane Harman’s overnight transformation from Very Serious Champion of the Lawless Surveillance State to shrill civil liberties extremist…

Continue reading. It’s quite a funny column. Harman, based on her own voting record in favor of domestic surveillance, doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but she’s still indignant as hell.

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21 April 2009 at 3:05 pm

Two excellent columns

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By Glenn Greenwald, and I urge you to read both:

Obama recognizes: whether to prosecute is not his decision

The conclusion of that column:

There may be good arguments, for strategic reasons, to opt for a full-scale independent investigation to enable all facts to be publicly disclosed before embarking on prosecutions (Harper‘s Scott Horton and Elizabeth de la Vega both make strong cases for that approach).  There may even be legitimate reasons why an independent prosecutor, with all the evidence assembled, might ultimately decide, as a matter of standard prosecutorial discretion, that prosecutions should not be pursued (that’s what Patrick Fitzgerald did when he refrained from indicting Karl Rove in the Libby matter).  But the fact that Obama himself opposes prosecutions, or that accountability for these crimes would create political difficulties or “distractions” for the White House, are completely inappropriate reasons for refraining from enforcing the rule of law.  Decisions about prosecutions are meant to be apolitical.  Those decisions are about vindicating equality under the law, not about forging bipartisanship by placating the political party of the criminals and ensuring that our political elites continue, in the name of “harmony,” to retain their license to break our laws with impunity.

The Pulitzer-winning investigation that dare not be uttered on TV

From the second column, this cute note:

For some added irony:  on his NBS News broadcast last night suppressing any mention of David Barstow’s Pulitzer Prize, Brian Williams’ lead story concerned Obama’s trip to the CIA yesterday.  Featured in that story was commentary from Col. Jack Jacobs, identified on-screen this way:  “Retired, NBC News Military Analyst.”  Jacobs was one of the retired officers who was an active member of the Pentagon’s “military analyst” program, and indeed, he actively helped plan the Pentagon’s media strategy at the very same time he was posing as an “independent analyst” on NBC (h/t reader gc; via NEXIS).  So not only did Williams last night conceal from his viewers any mention of the Pentagon program, he featured — on the very same broadcast — “independent” commentary from one of the central figures involved in that propaganda program.

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21 April 2009 at 1:29 pm

12-year-old college student

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Quite a guy:

It’s Friday at Florida International University, which means a few things for Sky Choi: physics lab, Calculus II — and a trip to the game room.

For this 12-year-old, the youngest student ever to attend FIU, college is a long-awaited challenge and a daily adventure.

”We have fun here,” he said as he prepared to start a work sheet on pistons, gases, and pressure with his lab partners.

Welcome to the world of Sky, who is taking a full course load of physics, calculus, and Chinese language classes at the university — and still finds time to play pool and table tennis in the game room at the West Miami-Dade campus.

A home-schooler who has a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do and is fluent in Korean, he is dual enrolled and officially finishing high school at the end of this semester.

When he starts classes in the fall as a full-fledged college student, he’ll have as many credits as a sophomore.

The Pembroke Pines preteen, who is classified as ”profoundly gifted,” started taking classes there when he was 10.

”I felt really, really small,” he said…

Continue reading. Here he is:

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21 April 2009 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Geithner doing a little ducking and dodging

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, appearing today before the congressional bailout oversight panel, repeatedly emphasized the importance of transparency to the success of the rescue plan.

“In a crisis, transparency, accountability and a coherent plan with clear goals are essential to maintain the confidence of the public and capital markets,” he told the panel.

Funny, then, that Geithner is ignoring a congressional inquiry into Treasury’s plan to circumvent congressionally imposed restrictions on bailout recipients by creating a middleman through which to channel bailout funds. That strategy — first reported April 4  by The Washington Post — would allow the bailed out firms to claim that they haven’t received help directly from the government because the money would be funneled through these “special purpose vehicles” — a technicality allowing firms to ignore certain behavioral conditions, including executive pay limits.

The plan drew fire from Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who fired off a series of questions to Geithner about why the Treasury thinks it has the authority to ignore Washington’s legislative branch.

Towns requested answers by last Thursday, but Towns spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg said today that Treasury has yet to respond.

How’s that for maintaining the confidence of the public?

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21 April 2009 at 1:11 pm

Release of torture memos may help torture victims’ lawsuits

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

With the latest batch of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel torture memos having revealed more of the intricate, gruesome details of the CIA’s interrogation techniques, how can the government continue to claim that its now-defunct “extraordinary rendition” and torture program is a “state secret”?

That’s the question raised in a letter sent today by the American Civil Liberties Union to a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is now considering the appeals of victims of that formerly secret CIA program in a pending case.

Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, which I’ve written about here, charges that Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, assisted the CIA in unlawfully sending the men abroad to be interrogated under torture. The victims seek monetary damages and an acknowledgment of what was done to them. But the government – first under President Bush and now under President Obama – has claimed the case must be dismissed because the rendition program is a “state secret” and revealing information about it would endanger national security, even though President Obama has insisted that the program is no longer active.

With the memos describing the CIA’s interrogation techniques now in the public domain, that argument makes little sense, the ACLU wrote today in a letter to the court…

Continue reading.

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21 April 2009 at 1:09 pm

Obama hands off to Holder: Video

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21 April 2009 at 1:06 pm

Goldman Sachs whines

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Dean Baker:

Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, is very upset with the TARP. Last fall, Mr. Blankfein borrowed $10 billion through the TARP at below market interest rates. Now, the government is starting to tie some real condition to this money, for example, by limiting what Goldman can pay its executives. Mr. Blankfein argues that such conditions are making it impossible to run his business and is now anxious to return the TARP money.

It is great to see that Goldman is finally prepared to go forward into the market without its government training wheels of TARP aid, but, unfortunately, Mr. Blankfein isn’t yet confident enough in his business acumen to actually forego government assistance. Goldman Sachs has benefited and continues to benefit enormously from other forms of government aid.

For example, last fall Mr. Blankfein also took advantage of the opportunity to borrow $25 billion with an FDIC guarantee to his creditors. If this government guarantee reduced his borrowing costs by two percentage points, then it means that the taxpayers handed Goldman $500 million a year in lower interest costs.

Goldman Sachs also has the opportunity to …

Continue reading. His conclusion:

… The basic story is straightforward. The Wall Street crew thinks that they are entitled to pilfer as much as they want from the public and from the government. This people have no interest in a “free market”; they would be scared to death of being forced to work for a living in the absence of a government safety net.

The Wall Street crew has relied on its political power to rig the rules to make them incredibly wealthy. They are relying on this political power to ensure that the rules remained rigged, even though their crooked deck wrecked the economy, costing tens of millions of people their jobs, their homes and their life savings. So far, it looks like the Wall Street boys are winning.

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21 April 2009 at 12:54 pm

Bad economics in the current crisis

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Dean Baker in the Guardian:

It is often said that the there are few forces as destructive as the power of bad economics. Rarely has this been more clearly demonstrated than in the current crisis.

While the bankers’ greed fed the housing bubble, the incompetence and corruption of the economics profession allowed the world’s largest financial bubble to grow unchecked, until its inevitable collapse wrecked the economy. Remarkably, the economists who got everything wrong as the bubble was expanding, are still being given the opportunity to get everything wrong as we try to dig out from the wreckage.

Even though most of the "best" economists in the world did not see it, the story of the bubble and its collapse was in fact extremely simple. The recovery from the stock market crash in 2001 was driven by the growth of the housing bubble.

In the United States, the unprecedented run-up in house prices fueled the economy by causing a construction boom, and even more importantly, a consumption boom, as the saving rate fell to zero. While many prominent economists lectured the country on the need to save and to end spendthrift ways, those who knew economics pointed to the well-known housing wealth effect.

Households spend in part based on their housing wealth. The predictable result of the creation of $8tn in housing bubble wealth ($110,000 per homeowner) was a massive consumption boom on the order of $400bn to $600bn a year. The problem was not people’s spendthrift ways; the problem was that economic policymakers allowed a huge bubble to develop. People treated this bubble wealth as real wealth, and responded exactly as economic theory would predict: they spent like crazy.

With house prices falling rapidly back to earth, the housing construction boom is now a bust and saving rates are returning to normal…

Continue reading.

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21 April 2009 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Tagged with

The Need to Tax the Wealthy

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Dean Baker writes in The Economist:

The quest to increase taxes on the wealthy is not a gratuitous attack on upper income households; it is driven by the need to raise more revenue to run the government. While many deficit hawks been irresponsible in raising fears of an impending collapse of the American government, the projected deficits for years following the recovery are in fact larger than is desirable.

There are areas of American spending at the federal government level that could be reasonably cut, but even after we have zeroed out the "waste, fraud, and abuse" category of federal spending we will still likely need additional revenue of between 1-2%t of GDP to keep budget deficits in an acceptable range. That leaves a choice between increasing taxes on the wealthy or imposing more taxes on the middle class.

The vast majority of the income gains in the United States over the last three decades have gone to the richest 5% of the population, largely as a result of policies that were explicitly designed to redistribute income upwards. Therefore it is far more appropriate to tax the richest 5%t of families who have prospered than the broad middle class who have suffered.

Of course taxes can be designed in a better or worse manner. The best way to increase taxes on the wealthy, in addition to allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, would be to apply a modest financial transactions tax (FTT).

There is a long history in both the United States and the rest of the world with FTT. Until 1964, …

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Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2009 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Obama hands off torture investigation to Holder

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This is encouraging, though redundant: Holder already had the authority. He’s Attorney General. The story, from Congressional Quarterly:

President Obama on Tuesday left it up to the Justice Department to decide what action, if any, to take against Bush administration officials responsible for legal opinions permitting the use of harsh interrogation tactics on suspected terrorists.

The president also signaled that he would not necessarily oppose the creation of an independent commission to probe Bush-era counter-terrorism policies.

But he stressed his preference for looking forward, as he seeks to move beyond the controversies over waterboarding and other interrogation tactics that the government has renounced.

In brief remarks at the White House, Obama said that memos by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that he made public last week “reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings. That’s why I’ve discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs.” …

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Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2009 at 12:43 pm

Some tasty food blogs

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Via Mark Bittman, this post lists some good food blogs. One example:– “Greek Food and Beyond,” from Toronto. Recipes, food, more.”Kalofagas” is Greek for “gourmet.”

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2009 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Excellent miso write-up

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Good post on miso:

I love miso. It’s delicious, savory, salty, low in calories – but high in sodium – and easy to use.

So, what is miso?  At its most basic, miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans. Sometimes other components are fermented along with the soybeans, such as rice, barley, or ginger.  Miso is very versatile.  It’s soft texture (a little like canned pumpkin, only a little thicker) makes it easy to use as a sandwich spread, marinade, soup base, salad dressing – all sorts of things.  In Japanese cuisine, there’s even a sauce called tamamiso, which is a sauce of egg yolks and miso, among other things.  It’s like a Japanese version of Hollandaise.  Chances are, if you’ve ever had geoduck sashimi, you’ve had it.  In Japan, miso soup is a traditional foundation for breakfast (so I’ve read. I have, alas, not yet been to Japan, although I am pretty sure I was Japanese in a former life).

Because I love salt, I think one of the reasons I love miso so much is because of its saltiness.  But also, it is a very satisfying, considering its very low caloric content (35 calories per tablespoon).

Another great thing about miso is …

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Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2009 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

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