Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
Obama did many good things and also some terrible things, and his vindictive persecution of whistleblowers (after saying he would protect them) and his lack of transparency (how many press conferences has he had?) are a gift to the incoming president.
James Risen, a NY Times journalist who was threatened with a prison sentence by Obama’s Attorney General, has a column on the fallout from Obama’s disregard for press freedom:
If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.
Mr. Trump made his animus toward the news media clear during the presidential campaign, often expressing his disgust with coverage through Twitter or in diatribes at rallies. So if his campaign is any guide, Mr. Trump seems likely to enthusiastically embrace the aggressive crackdown on journalists and whistle-blowers that is an important yet little understood component of Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy.
Criticism of Mr. Obama’s stance on press freedom, government transparency and secrecy is hotly disputed by the White House, but many journalism groups say the record is clear. Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.
Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.
I experienced this pressure firsthand when the administration tried to compel me to testify to reveal my confidential sources in a criminal leak investigation. The Justice Department finally relented — even though it had already won a seven-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force me to testify — most likely because they feared the negative publicity that would come from sending a New York Times reporter to jail.
In an interview last May, President Obama pushed back on the criticism that his administration had been engaged in a war on the press. He argued that the number of leak prosecutions his administration had brought had been small and that some of those cases were inherited from the George W. Bush administration.
“I am a strong believer in the First Amendment and the need for journalists to pursue every lead and every angle,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Rutgers University student newspaper. “I think that when you hear stories about us cracking down on whistle-blowers or whatnot, we’re talking about a really small sample.
“Some of them are serious,” he continued, “where you had purposeful leaks of information that could harm or threaten operations or individuals who were in the field involved with really sensitive national security issues.”
But critics say the crackdown has had a much greater chilling effect on press freedom than Mr. Obama acknowledges. In a scathing 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of The Washington Post who now teaches at Arizona State University, said the war on leaks and other efforts to control information was “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”
When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, press freedom groups had high expectations for the former constitutional law professor, particularly after the press had suffered through eight years of bitter confrontation with the Bush administration. But today, many of those same groups say Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit. “Obama has laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, added: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.”
The administration’s heavy-handed approach represents a sharp break with tradition. For decades, official Washington did next to nothing to stop leaks. Occasionally the C.I.A. or some other agency, nettled by an article or broadcast, would loudly proclaim that it was going to investigate a leak, but then would merely go through the motions and abandon the case.
Of course, reporters and sources still had to be careful to avoid detection by the government. But leak investigations were a low priority for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. In fact, before the George W. Bush administration, only one person was ever convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking — Samuel Morison, a Navy analyst arrested in 1984 for giving spy satellite photos of a Soviet aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense Weekly. He was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.
Things began to change in the Bush era, particularly after the Valerie Plame case. The 2003 outing of Ms. Plame as a covert C.I.A. operative led to a criminal leak investigation, which in turn led to a series of high-profile Washington journalists being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and name the officials who had told them about her identity. Judith Miller, then a New York Times reporter, went to jail for nearly three months before finally testifying in the case.
The Plame case began to break down the informal understanding between the government and the news media that leaks would not be taken seriously.
The Obama administration quickly ratcheted up the pressure, and made combating leaks a top priority for federal law enforcement. Large-scale leaks, by Chelsea Manning and later by Edward J. Snowden, prompted the administration to adopt a zealous, prosecutorial approach toward all leaking. Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, recalls that, during a private 2011 meeting intended to air differences between media representatives and administration officials, “You got the impression from the tone of the government officials that they wanted to take a zero-tolerance approach to leaks.” . . .
Kevin Drum has an interesting post worth reading about the unrelenting and irrational hostility the Right has against Hillary Clinton—this is their continued insistence that there must be something bad in the emails, despite the inability of the FBI and a Congressional committee to find anything. This is similar to the continued insistence that Clinton must have done something wrong in Benghazi, despite the inability of countless investigations to turn anything up and the inability of those holding that view to state anything specific that she did wrong. Same with the Clinton Foundation. A look at the Trump Foundation found sleazy practice along with outright violation of the law, but in all the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, nothing was exposed except a lot of good works. The fact is, those on the Right just don’t like her, they really, really don’t like her. It doesn’t matter what she does, there must be something wrong because… they dislike her.
The post is worth reading, but I’ll quote just the postscript:
I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I’ll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn’t happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.
So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton’s emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here’s my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton’s emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?
I know I’m missing something here, but I’ve been missing it for a long time.
Specifically, if anyone can get all the emails of a previous Secretary of State just by filing a FOIA request, let’s see all the emails from Secretary of State Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009). That’s a very interesting period, covering the 9/11 attacks, the initial of the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq. Those emails would be quite interesting, and if they are available with a simple FOIA request, let’s do it.
Systems of governance that are seized by a tiny cabal become mafia states. The early years—Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the United States—are marked by promises that the pillage will benefit everyone. The later years—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—are marked by declarations that things are getting better even though they are getting worse. The final years—Donald Trump—see the lunatic trolls, hedge fund parasites, con artists, conspiracy theorists and criminals drop all pretense and carry out an orgy of looting and corruption. . .
That’s the lede to this article by Chris Hedges at TruthDig.com. It continues:
The rich never have enough. The more they get, the more they want. It is a disease. CEOs demand and receive pay that is 200 times what their workers earn. And even when corporate executives commit massive fraud, such as the billing of hundreds of thousands of Wells Fargo customers for accounts they never opened, they elude punishment and personally profit. Disgraced CEO John Stumpf left Wells Fargo with a pay package that averages nearly $15 million a year. Richard Fuld received nearly half a billion dollars from 1993 to 2007, a time in which he was bankrupting Lehman Brothers.
The list of financial titans, including Trump, who have profited from a rigged financial system and fraud is endless. Many in the 1 percent make money by using lobbyists and bought politicians to write self-serving laws and rules and by forming unassailable monopolies. They push up prices on products or services these monopolies provide. Or they lend money to the 99 percent and charge exorbitant interest. Or they use their control of government and the courts to ship jobs to Mexico or China, where wages can be as low as 22 cents an hour, and leave American workers destitute. Neoliberalism is state-sponsored extortion. It is a vast, nationally orchestrated Ponzi scheme.
This fevered speculation and mounting inequality, made possible by the two ruling political parties, corroded and destroyed the mechanisms and institutions that permitted democratic participation and provided some protection for workers. Politicians, from Reagan on, were handsomely rewarded by their funders for delivering their credulous supporters to the corporate guillotine. The corporate coup created a mafia capitalism. This mafia capitalism, as economists such as Karl Polanyi and Joseph Stiglitz warned, gave birth to a mafia political system. Financial and political power in the hands of institutions such as Goldman Sachs and the Clinton Foundation becomes solely about personal gain. The Obamas in a few weeks will begin to give us a transparent lesson into how service to the corporate state translates into personal enrichment.
Adam Smith wrote that profits are often highest in nations on the verge of economic collapse. These profits are obtained, he wrote, by massively indebting the economy. A rentier class, composed of managers at hedge funds, banks, financial firms and other companies, makes money not by manufacturing products but from the control of economic rents. To increase profits, lenders, credit card companies and others charge higher and higher interest rates. Or they use their monopolies to gouge the public. The pharmaceutical company Mylan, in a classic example, raised the price of an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat allergy reactions from $57 in 2007 to about $500.
These profits are counted as economic growth. But this is a fiction, a sleight of hand, like unemployment statistics or the consumer price index, used to mask the speculative shell game.
“The head of Goldman Sachs came out and said that Goldman Sachs workers are . . .
How long has this been going on? Jennifer Rubin writes really good columns these days (with example)
I remember when Jennifer Rubin was praising Mitt Romney without reserve, only later to admit that after his defeat that she was just making statements that she thought would help him. You can see why I stopped reading her column.
The Wall Street Journal reports: “U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 178,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. While the rate was the lowest since August 2007, it reflected some people finding jobs while even more dropped out of the workforce.”
Certainly troubling trends continue. (“Declining participation in the labor force is one of the nation’s more worrisome economic trends, highlighting crosscurrents that have lifted the prospects of many Americans while creating new challenges for others.”) And there are some specific bright spots. (“A broad measure of unemployment and underemployment, which includes those who have stopped looking and those in part-time jobs who want full-time positions, was 9.3% in November, down from 9.5% the prior month and the lowest level since April 2008. The rate averaged 8.3% in the two years before the recession.”) However, as we anticipate a new administration with a president who painted the U.S. economy as a wreck, some perspective is in order.
Credit is due to President George W. Bush and, in turn, President Obama (and the Federal Reserve and the presidents’ respective treasury secretaries) for the emergency measures that averted a meltdown of the financial system. Bush passed and Obama continued the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which right- and left-wing populists bitterly opposed.
My colleague Robert Samuelson wrote: “One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today.” That was in 2010, when unemployment was close to 9 percent.
Given the large gap in time between the nearly billion dollar stimulus and the onset of real job growth, we are less convinced that this played much of a role in reviving a then-$15 trillion economy. (Liberals complained it was too small to work — before deciding that it gave us the “Obama recovery.”)
The alarmists on all sides got it wrong. Obamacare didn’t sink the economy, nor did the expiration of a sliver of the Bush tax cuts. Those on the right who claimed otherwise were wrong. Meanwhile, the absence of a second stimulus did not prevent us from reaching 4.6 percent unemployment. Inequality did not, contrary to the president’s frequent claims, impede recovery. The left had those things wrong. Populists were also off base: Trade deals don’t prevent us from growing or adding substantial numbers of jobs. (We have job churn, not losses because of trade, and many other factors.) The trade deficit does not mean we are losing jobs or failing to grow; the opposite is true.
Each side will claim the recovery would have been better and faster if it had its way, but our point is that essential gridlock for eight years after TARP did not cause economic calamity. We should promote pro-growth, pro-job programs butwith caution and humility to admit the U.S. economy left to its own devices generally recovers. (There certainly are other reasons — inequality, upward mobility, wage growth — for pursuing some robust policy changes. Liberals, conservatives and populists will differ as to what those are.)
What is not in dispute is that Donald Trump will enter office in January with an economy that is nothing like the dystopia he painted. Before charging off to throw up tariffs or pass a massive tax cut that opens up a gusher of red ink, or throw 11 million people out of the country, perhaps some caution is warranted. We are not now in a recession, and we should stop pretending we are to justify extreme measures which carry unintended consequences. We are growing at 3.2 percent at last count; and Trump’s treasury nominee declares we can grow at a rate — get this — of between 3 and 4 percent.
We suggest getting back to reality and assessing our real needs:
- We have a gap between skills and the needs of the 21st century economy.
- We need to upgrade infrastructure.
- We have a Byzantine . . .
Of course, one cannot overlook the other enormous drain on the economy: the war of unwarranted aggression. Lest we forget, George W. Bush undertook an invasion of Iraq, then bungled the recovery beyond belief, creating a breakdown that seems to have rippled across the Mideast. On hindsight, George W. Bush dealt a serious economic wound to the US, along with the moral wounds (the innovation of instituting torture as an actual government policy, along with mass surveillance of the public). And, TBH, we all might be better off if Bush had not been so dismissive of the national security intelligence briefings, an attitude that seems even worse in our President-Elect, who simply refused to believe the intelligence he received in the briefly, blowing it off because his own impressions (formed from cable TV and Twitter) are different.
At any rate, the GOP is directly responsible for much of the damage our country has suffered in the 21st century. So far. And, based on what we see of Trump, the GOP will soon be responsible for much more damage. And just to be clear, this is reality we’re talking about: what your daily life will be like four years from now.
Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:
One of the many alarming facts that came to light with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Torture Report in 2014 was that the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons had sent a “delegation of several officers” to Afghanistan to conduct an assessment an infamous CIA detention site and concluded the CIA “did not mistreat the detainees.”
Senate investigators found that the bureau officers visited a detention site codenamed Cobalt north of Kabul in November 2002. That site — also known as the Salt Pit — has become infamous for the brutal torture inflicted on detainees there, including rectal exams conducted with “excessive force.” According to Senate investigators, the CIA’s own employees described the facility as “a dungeon,” where detainees “cowered” as interrogators opened the door and “looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”
In April, the ACLU filed suit to obtain documents related to the visit, which the Bureau of Prisons initially claimed did not exist.
The bureau has now turned over several emails mentioning the visit — along with a written declaration by a senior Bureau of Prisons lawyer explaining the attempted cover-up. That declaration states that the officers were tasked orally, so that there was no record of their travel, and that the CIA forbade the two officers from producing records of or about the visit.
In a newly released 2011 email, one of the officers tells a supervisor that “we were not even allowed to speak with a supervisor about what was going on.”
The declaration says that due to the lack of records, searches for documents based on keywords like “CIA, Afghanistan, and COBALT,” initially turned up no documents. After the ACLU filed suit, the bureau conducted a more thorough search, identifying the individuals who traveled to Afghanistan, and searching their communications.
The declaration confirms that two Bureau of Prisons officers traveled to “an international location,” in November 2002 to provide “basic correctional practices training” to the CIA. . .
Later in the report:
While BOP officers toured the facility, interrogators tortured detainee Gul Rahman to death. A CIA team dragged Rahman out of his cell, beat him, immersed him in cold water, and put him in an isolation cell, where he died of hypothermia overnight.
According to the Senate report, the Bureau of Prison officers remarked that “there is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” but nonetheless concluded that the prison was “sanitary,” and “not inhumane.”
M. Gregg Bloche reports in the NY Times:
President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday expressed reservations about the use of torture. But he did not disavow the practice, or his promise to bring it back. And if he does, C.I.A. doctors may be America’s last defense against a return to savagery. But they’ll need to break sharply with what they did the last time around.
Buried in a trove of documents released last summer is the revelation that C.I.A. physicians played a central role in designing the agency’s post-Sept. 11 torture program. The documents, declassified in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, show in chilling detail how C.I.A. medicine lost its moral moorings. It’s long been known that doctors attended torture as monitors. What’s new is their role as its engineers.
The documents include previously redacted language from a directive by the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services telling physicians at clandestine interrogation sites to flout medical ethics by lying to detainees and collaborating in abuse. This language also reveals that doctors helped to design a waterboarding method more brutal than what even lawyers for the George W. Bush administration allowed.
The directive counsels that clinical care “not undermine the anxiety and dislocation that the various interrogation techniques are designed to foster.” It instructs physicians not to “appear overly attentive” and to confound patients’ expectations via deceit. Recommended tactics include doing clinical exams while pretending to be guards, changing medication schedules to disrupt detainees’ sense of time and hiding drugs in food.
It also outlines protocols for prolonged shackling in painful positions that would permit development of skin lesions and edema (swelling because of leakage of fluid from blood vessels) up to the knees. Sleep-deprivation protocols call for a balance between breaking detainees’ resistance and preserving their capacity to provide information.
If forced wakefulness “is intended to be one element in the process of demonstrating helplessness in an unpleasant environment,” the directive counsels, two-hour “naps” between days of sleeplessness are “sufficient.”
Previously redacted language also discloses the origin of the degrading practice of “rectal hydration,” first reported by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2014: The medical service advised that “individuals refusing adequate liquids” be given fluids forcibly, through a “rectal tube.”
Other language shows that C.I.A. physicians collaborated in waterboarding more terrifying and dangerous than what government lawyers permitted. The Justice Department allowed interrogators to simulate drowning for up to 40 seconds by using a wet cloth to block air flow through the nose and mouth. But according to the directive, the medical service determined that a good air seal “was not easily achieved by the wet cloth.” So it instead went along with pouring “up to several liters of water” onto captives’ faces.
“The resulting occlusion,” the directive said, “was primarily from water filling the nasopharynx, breathholding, and much less frequently the oropharynx being filled — rather than the ‘sealing’ effect of the saturated cloth.” The drowning experience, in other words, wasn’t simulated; it was real.
That C.I.A. interrogators actually employed this method is consistent with videotapes of waterboarding sessions. A 2004 review of these since-destroyed videos found that instead of using the wet-cloth technique, interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water.” The review, by the C.I.A.’s inspector general, noted that this “differed” from what the Justice Department had authorized. The agency’s method, a psychologist-interrogator told the inspector general, was “more poignant and convincing.”
The medical service instructed physicians to manage waterboarding’s dangers by combining the practice with sleep deprivation and shackling of detainees in stressful positions; this, the service advised, could “prolong the period of moderate use of the waterboard by reducing the intensity of its early use.”
The service conceded in the recently released text that the abuse its doctors helped to plan put detainees at deadly risk. Inhalation of water, spasm of the larynx, hypothermia and lung and limb infections are among the hazards physicians were told to watch for.
The role of physicians included assessing the comparative efficacy of abusive methods. The medical service judged extended sleep deprivation “most effective” because of its “demonstrably cumulative” contribution toward “demonstrating helplessness in an unpleasant environment.” But it concluded that confinement in tiny boxes worked poorly since this offered “a respite from interrogation,” and it expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of waterboarding.
Some of the agency’s doctors challenged the torture program’s efficacy and questioned why the psychologists who created it served in conflicting roles as both its managers and evaluators. There were objections, as well, to the ethics of putting behavioral science to such brutal use. But the program’s advocates prevailed, and the medical service instructed its physicians accordingly. There have been no public indications that any refused to go along.
Unlike the contractor-psychologists who created the torture program and have faced public excoriation, the C.I.A. physicians who helped design it remain anonymous. . .
And the Obama administration established that torturing prisoners carries no penalty. Those who torture people at the government’s orders received decorations and promotions but no punishment or accountability
The belated discovery that physicians were directly involved in torturing prisoners and in devising ways to make the torture worse is exactly why there should have been a serious investigation rather than a cover-up, and the findings should have been shared with the public.
Charles Ornstein and Mike Hixenbaugh have a scathing report that shows the government once more determined to screw over American vets. The blurb: “For decades, the military and the VA have repeatedly turned to one man to guide decisions on whether Agent Orange harmed vets in Vietnam and elsewhere. His reliable answer: No.”
And do read this illustrative report: “Eight Times Agent Orange’s Biggest Defender Has Been Wrong or Misleading.”
Just like corporations choosing arbitrators that have a history of deciding always in favor of the corporation, the government chooses experts who have a history of supporting the government position.