Later On

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

Archive for December 20th, 2013

Some are more equal than others

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Those who leak government secrets will be held accountable and severely punished by the Obama Administration… unless the leaker is a senior official. Then it’s okay. It’s the usual practice: take action against the powerless, protect the powerful. I’m just disappointed to see that it’s happening in the Obama Administration. Obama certainly talks a good game, but the discrepancy between his words and his actions grows ever greater.

However, the investigative fury is now in full swing over the leaks involving Zero Dark Thirty—not focused on those who leaked the information (former CIA director Leon Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, the Defense Department’s top intelligence official). Those two are fine. They’re powerful. No, the focus of the investigation and the threat of punishment is for the person(s) who leaked that those two are the leakers.

When the Obama Administration doesn’t enforce its own policies, it will take swift action against those who leak that.

I find this offensive in the extreme: protect the powerful, punish the powerless. Let that be the epigraph for this Administration. A prime example: Obama’s protection of James Clapper, who flat-out lied to Congress and to the public. Perhaps Obama finds him a kindred spirit.

Here’s the report by Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay in McClatchy. It begins:

More than two years after sensitive information about the Osama bin Laden raid was disclosed to Hollywood filmmakers, Pentagon and CIA investigations haven’t publicly held anyone accountable despite internal findings that the leakers were former CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official.

Instead, the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office is working to root out who might have disclosed the findings on Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers to a nonprofit watchdog group and to McClatchy.

While the information wasn’t classified, the inspector general’s office has pursued the new inquiry aggressively, grilling its own investigators, as well as the former director of its whistle-blowing unit, according to several people, including a congressional aide. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“I’m concerned that the inspector general’s office is barking up the wrong tree,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who long has championed government whistle-blowing. “There’s no doubt they should look into the ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ fiasco, but they should focus on holding people accountable for leaking highly classified operational material instead of wasting time and money investigating who leaked the report.”

The handling of the disclosures of protected information to the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the award-winning account of the U.S. hunt for bin Laden, points up an apparent double standard in President Barack Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on unauthorized leaks.

Disclosures by lower-level officials have been vigorously pursued. For example, seven Navy SEALs were reprimanded for disclosing classified material to the makers of a military video game. Moreover, the administration has prosecuted a record number of intelligence community personnel for leaking.

Rarely, however, has the administration taken criminal action against senior officials for leaking.

A central pillar of the crackdown – labeled the Insider Threat Program by the administration – aims to use behavioral profiling and tips from co-workers to identify federal employees who someday might make unauthorized disclosures.

Under the program, the Defense Department equates leaking to the news media with spying. Many of those who’ve been targeted, however, contend that they’re compelled to leak about official malfeasance because the government’s whistle-blower protection system doesn’t work, a defense raised by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The handling of the “Zero Dark Thirty” disclosures “suggests that some leaks are tolerated depending on who makes them,” said Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit group that’s pressed Republican and Democratic administrations for greater transparency. “Snowden should call his lawyer. This is exactly what he’s talking about.” . . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 7:17 pm

Ignorance and hatred: A bad combination, with example from Georgia

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Brian Fung reports at The Switch in the Washington Post:

A federal judge has blocked a controversial proposal that would’ve disproportionately hurt low-income Georgia residents if it had gone through.

In a preliminary injunction handed down this week, Judge Richard Story of the Northern District of Georgia agreed with wireless carriers that forcing poor people to pay $5 a month for phone service that residents of other states get for free would cause irreparable injury. The charge was supposed to go into effect next month, but the ruling will prevent it until a final decision has been made in the case.

The idea, proposed by Georgia’s public service commission, was approved by a 3 to 2 vote this year. It affects the 28-year-old federal program known as Lifeline, which grants phone service to the poor at a special subsidy.

Lifeline’s been criticized by conservatives as a handout. Many have gone so far as to label the program’s free mobile devices as “Obamaphones,” implying that the White House was using the phones to buy votes. Doug Everett, the Georgia public service commissioner who’s led the charge against Lifeline, has accused the program of massive waste and fraud. In October, Everett said that the state at one point was tracking over a million Lifeline phones, which amounted to more phones than there were poor people. Low-income Georgians were somehow stocking up on devices despite their meager means, he claimed.

But a back-of-the-envelope analysis of Georgia’s demographics revealed that the state has many more poor people than Everett seems to think. Instead of a Lifeline penetration rate of 125 percent — as the commissioner suggests — it may in fact be more like a penetration rate of about 30 percent. Moreover, when pressed to describe the impact of the rate hike, Everett admitted he had “no idea” how effective the proposal would be and admitted that people would be hurt by the rule.

Spokespeople from both the public service commission and the wireless industry declined to comment for this story.

I’m not saying that the GOP hates the poor; I’m saying that if you predict what a political party that does hate the poor would do, it matches up quite closely with the GOP’s actions. (Example: a report in the Washington Post by Brad Plumer: “Unemployment benefits for 1.3 million expire next week. Here’s what you should know.”)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

The FBI will always amaze…

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Andrea Peterson writes in The Switch at the Washington Post:

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones has a pretty incredible story up right now — as in you will be incredulous that an FBI agent actually thought this was a good idea. The author of a sensitive FBI interrogation manual submitted the document for copyright protection — in the process, making it available to anyone with a card for the Library of Congress to read.

This is bizarre on a number of levels, but two aspects of the story are particularly mind-boggling. First is that the American Civil Liberties Union fought a legal battle with the FBI over access to documents just like this. In fact, the FBI relented and provided a version of this same manual to the ACLU last year. But the copy they released to the ACLU was heavily redacted — unlike the 70-plus page version of the manual Baumann reviewed at the Library of Congress.

And second, . . .

Read the whole thing. The article ends:

. . . A comparison between that version catalogued by the Library of Congress and the redacted one the ACLU obtained reveals a few interesting details. For instance, the full version includes a sentence that says the manual is intended for the FBI’s “clean” teams — the investigators charged with collecting information for use in federal prosecutions. “That raises the question of whether teams collecting information that’s not for use in federal courts would have to follow the manual’s (already permissive) guidelines at all,” says Baumann.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 5:08 pm

Why marijuana should become legal fast

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Because it would redirect police efforts toward actual crime rather than toward people using marijuana—and in this case, for medical purposes. Aaron Kase writes in AlterNet:

A New Jersey medical marijuana user is facing drug charges because he sought police assistance following a domestic disturbance that nearly cost him his life.

Scott Waselik walked into a police station in the town of Sparta, New Jersey on October 8, with a stab wound to his chest. He was the victim, he said, of a breakup gone awry. Waselik’s former roommate Kevin Rios was arrested for the attack, [3] which left Waselik in the hospital for a week.

His health is improving, but the 23-year-old’s problems are piling up. While investigating the stabbing, police found marijuana in Waselik’s home. Now, he’s incurring thousands in legal fees to defend himself on drug possession charges.

The kicker? Waselik is a medical marijuana patient registered under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. He suffers from Crohn’s disease and uses marijuana to reduce seizure risk and counteract nausea that is caused by his pharmaceutical treatments.

“The only relief I’ve found was smoking,” he said.

His medication was the last thing on his mind when he walked into the police station.

“I would have died if I didn’t get there within an hour,” he recounted.

But when cops entered his house they found and confiscated drugs and smoking devices.

“They disregard any compassion for card-holding patients,” Waselik said. “Rather than doing any type of crime-scene evidence [about the stabbing], they decided to just go the marijuana route at that point.”

Sparta police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Around 22,000 people are arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey each year, pinning a criminal record on defendants who have hurt no one in addition to tying up law enforcement and court resources. Some arrestees, like Waselik, are supposed to be legally authorized to use the drug.

New Jersey NORML [4] executive director Evan Nison said the group has been hearing on a regular basis from medical marijuana card holders who get arrested.

“The state has said this person is sick enough to get medical marijuana, medical marijuana could help them, they are failing to provide access and then arresting them for having to look elsewhere,” Nison said.

The problem is that the state’s strict statute and ever stricter regulations make it impossible for many patients who qualify for treatment to actually obtain their medication legally.

“Many potential patients who can benefit from marijuana therapy are not able to get legal access to it,” said Ken Wolski, CEO of theCoalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey [5].

“Governor Christie said he was opposed to this law when he first came into office in January 2010 and he’s been putting stumbling blocks and delays in the implementation of this program every since,” Wolski said. “The result is that patients continue to get arrested.”

Attorney General guidelines instruct police officers [6] to attempt to verify a medical cardholder’s participation in the program and not to make an arrest or confiscate any drugs from anyone they find to be in compliance with the law. Officers should not follow an “arrest first, let the court figure it out later” approach, the guidelines say. They also point out that “items otherwise constituting ‘drug paraphernalia’ that are used to administer or ingest medical marijuana” should not be taken or used as evidence for criminal charges. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Law, Medical

Release the damn torture reports, already

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Another strong NY Times editorial. I think they are seeing President Obama in a new light. I know I am.

A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is appalling that official reports about the extent and nature of the rendition, detention and torture that came in their aftermath are still being kept from the American public and even members of Congress charged with overseeing intelligence activities.

The program was abandoned years ago. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s exhaustive 6,000-page report was completed last December. But it has yet to be declassified. Likely the closest to a full accounting the nation is going to get, the report is said to contain unsparing criticism of the program. News reports have said it chronicles the Central Intelligence Agency’s repeated misleading of the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal and lawless methods that yielded little valuable intelligence despite the claims of former Vice President Dick Cheney and other defenders of torture.

The C.I.A. wrote a 122-page rebuttal to the Senate’s report, which was delivered by the agency’s current director, John Brennan, in June, four months after the committee’s deadline. It, too, remains under wraps.

The C.I.A. and the committee’s staff have conducted some 60 hours of negotiations on the agency’s proposed changes to the report. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, has expressed frustration with the delay. She has said she aims to have the committee vote in January to begin a formal declassification process at least for those sections of the report. That process could take weeks or it could take many months, depending on how long the C.I.A. drags it out.

The lack of transparency was underlined on Tuesday during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, disclosed the existence of an internal study done by the C.I.A. under Mr. Brennan’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, that contradicted the agency’s response to the Senate study. Mr. Udall said he believed it was “consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report.” Mr. Udall said: “This raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”

The committee must insist on the Obama administration’s cooperation in making public all three documents — the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the official C.I.A. response to it, and the internal C.I.A. study.

Rendition, illegal detention and torture did not arise on President Obama’s watch. He has repeatedly denounced the use of torture and ended the detention program as one of his first White House acts. But his expansive claims of secrecy have succeeded in blocking victims’ lawsuits and helping to keep details of rendition and torture secret, denying the country a reckoning necessary for the historical record, establishing accountability and avoiding similar human rights violations in the future.

Mr. Obama has a duty to ensure prompt public release of the documents — minimally redacted to protect genuine national security secrets, not to avoid embarrassment.

I believe that Mr. Obama is a substantial part of the problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 4:36 pm

The perpetual problem of the GOP

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The is not meant to imply that the Democratic Party doesn’t have its own perpetual problem, mainly a lack of courage and almost an eagerness to sacrifice the principles of the party (probably because Congress now consists almost entirely of people who are wealthy). But the GOP has problems as well, and Rick Pearlstein has an interesting take on those in The Nation:

A Democratic president begins a new term in the White House. Two years later, America votes a cadre of aggressive conservatives into Congress, loaded for bear. At first the Republican establishment, thrilled to have the Democrats on the run, puts its wariness about the fire-breathers aside. Within a few years, though, the new guys throw out all the old rules of consensus and compromise, and the establishment shows signs of buyer’s remorse. One of the new conservatives, a bulky, take-no-prisoners senator who sees socialist quislings everywhere, takes control of the agenda and threatens to drive the GOP into the ground.

But this is not 2008 or 2013. It’s the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the senator is not Ted Cruz but Joseph McCarthy.

A new sort of conservative has taken over the Republican Party from the ground up—and they don’t give a goddamn about anything the US Chamber of Commerce says. They want a total divorce between capitalism and the government, and whoever disagrees can go straight to hell. Business people, above all else pragmatists, are alarmed at the prospect of losing control of “the party of business” and hatch schemes to take it back. The Democratic president, for his part, declares a White House open-door policy for business leaders and makes maintaining a climate favorable to business a keynote of his administration. Suddenly, the direction of the Republican Party itself seems to be at stake.

But this is not 2013. It is 1964. The business-friendly president is Lyndon Johnson, and the Republican insurgents are followers of Barry Goldwater.

Moderate Republicans are on the run. The most powerful establishment Republican in Washington is by most measures a conservative. He argues in his speeches that the nation’s economic problems “bear a label: Made in Washington, DC.” He proclaims “a crossroads in our history”: whether America will continue on the path of “bigger government” and “higher taxes” or take a new direction to “halt the momentous growth of government.” But that’s not enough for the leader of the grassroots conservatives, who proclaims the establishment leader a sellout. But even more rabid conservatives distrust the conservative leader and call him a sellout as well. They hatch an insurgency against the insurgency.

But the establishment leader is not John Boehner. It is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 4:29 pm

Posted in GOP

Mr. Obama’s Disappointing Response

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A strong editorial from the NY Times, rightly pointing out that President Obama is, so far as we can tell, going to continue the surveillance state (and drone warfare and secret wars in the Third World).

By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.

He did not do any of that.

Sure, Mr. Obama thanked his panel for making 46 recommendations to restore the rule of law and constitutional principles to government surveillance activities. (The number alone casts a bad light on the president’s repeated claims that there really was nothing wrong with surveillance policy.) And he promised to review those ideas and let us know next month which, if any, he intends to follow.

But Mr. Obama has had plenty of time to consider this issue, and the only specific thing he said on the panel’s proposals was that it might be a good idea to let communications companies keep the data on phone calls and emails rather than store them in the vast government databases that could be easily abused. But he raised doubts about such a plan, and he left the impression that he sees this issue as basically a question of public relations and public perception.

Mr. Obama, who six months ago said that he thought the data collection struck the “right balance” between security and civil liberties, said on Friday that the government had not abused its access to private information. He continued to defend the mostly secret, internal protocols that the government uses to prevent abuse.

He kept returning to the idea that he might be willing to do more, but only to reassure the public “in light of the disclosures that have taken place.”

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated to correct the flaws in the government’s surveillance policy had they not been revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

And that is why any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.

Federal lawyers argued their way into a misreading of that passage, which deals with the collection of “business records” to stop or track down terrorists. But its intent, according to those who wrote the law, was never to allow the National Security Agency to collect and store data on every call and every email just in case it might be useful. That seems like a clear violation of the Constitution, as well as the spirit of the law.

History is going to have some strong condemnation of President Obama. I do understand that he is undoubtedly overwhelmed, but he can call on help, and simply rejecting the recommendations of the panel he convened strong suggests that he is not acting in good faith.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2013 at 4:15 pm

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