Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
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.
GOP demanded retraction of a DHS report on right-wing domestic terrorism—which we now are seeing more frequently
Under George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security wrote reports evaluating terrorism threats from various sources, including domestic left-wing terrorism and (in a separate report) domestic right-wing terrorism. The report was not finalized and released until Barack Obama took office, and the Republicans in Congress went berserk, though only about the report on the likelihood of right-wing domestic terrorists.
Conservatives are extremely tribal, much like the Taliban, and place an extremely high value on loyalty. They perceived the report an attack on members of their tribe—who unfortunately were involved in domestic terrorism, but still a member of the conservative tribe, to be defended at all costs, particularly since the report came out when a Democratic administration was in office (though the report had been initiated and completed under a Republican administration, that of George W. Bush).
Now the chickens so assiduously protected and ignored are coming home to roost. Curtis Tate reports at McClatchy:
In April 2009, Daryl Johnson found himself caught in a firestorm because of a report he’d authored at the Department of Homeland Security.
It warned of a surge in activity by right-wing groups, including militias, white supremacists, anti-government activists and others motivated by racial grievance toward the nation’s first black president and the consequences of a faltering economy.
Republicans in Congress slammed the report as an attack on conservatives. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and it was withdrawn. Johnson’s unit was disbanded.
Nearly eight years later, Johnson’s warnings have proved prescient in a string of incidents from the murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to mass shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and an African-American church in South Carolina.
And last week, a foiled alleged plot by three militiamen to attack an apartment complex inhabited by Muslim Somali immigrants in western Kansas further demonstrated that it isn’t just foreign terrorists or those sympathetic to them that Americans have to worry about.
“This is exactly the type of threat we were talking about,” said Johnson, who’s now a homeland security consultant. “It’s continued to grow over the past eight years.”
Three Kansas men – Curtis Allen, 49, Gavin Wright, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47 – were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The three are accused of plotting to detonate truck bombs around the complex in Garden City, Kansas, where 120 people live and worship.
The FBI arrested the men last Friday in Liberal, Kansas, after an undercover investigation.
According to a complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kansas, the men belonged to a militia group called the Crusaders, known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-government views.
The group referred to the Somali immigrants, who work at a local meatpacking plant, as “cockroaches,” the complaint said.
The men had discussed using rocket-propelled grenades to attack the complex, proposed dipping bullets in pig’s blood and even considered something similar to the fertilizer-and-fuel-oil combination Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, according to the complaint.
“I’ll blow every goddamn building up right there,” Stein allegedly said.
The three even talked about attacking area churches that supported the Somali migrants, according to the complaint, and said they wouldn’t even spare the children any mercy.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of extremist groups, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has increased 42 percent since 2014.
“This is just symptomatic of the really unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Hooper and others say the federal government’s focus on terrorism from abroad, or domestic terrorism carried out by people sympathetic to foreign terrorist groups, is diverting attention from threats against Muslims and where they live and worship.
“The attitude seems to be it cannot be terrorism unless a Muslim commits an act of violence,” he said.
Hooper said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had fueled anti-Muslim bias by calling for, among other things, a ban on Muslims entering the country and widespread surveillance of mosques.
“All of this stuff adds up,” he said.
The suspects in Kansas allegedly were planning to carry out their attack Nov. 9 – the day after Election Day. Trump’s campaign has struggled in recent weeks, and he’s fallen behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the polls.
“The militia and anti-government types are using the election to recruit more people and fuel more paranoia,” Johnson said. . .
More at the link, including video.
Barrett Brown writes in The Intercept:
I never really got a chance to play any pen-and-paper role-playing games growing up, so being thrown into a prison system in which such things as Dungeons and Dragons are relatively common constituted one of the silver linings of my 2012 arrest, along with not having to deal with an infestation of those little German roaches that had colonized my kitchen or having to see “World War Z.”
As it happens, I’d actually learned about the prevalence of tabletop games among inmates a few months before my own incarceration, in the days after the FBI first raided both my apartment and my mother’s home in March 2012 and seized laptops and papers without yet making an arrest. As they themselves noted in the search warrant, which the late Michael Hastings published at BuzzFeed, the focus of the investigation was my collaborative journalism outfit Project PM as well as echelon2.org, the online repository where we posted our ongoing findings on the still-mysterious “intelligence contracting” sector (which has since been moved here). The warrant listed HBGary Federal and Endgame Systems — two firms on which we’d focused particular attention — as topics for the FBI’s search. This was revealing. A year prior, a raid by Anonymous on the servers of HBGary had revealed, among other things, the firm’s leading role in a conspiracy by a consortium calling itself Team Themis to conduct an array of covert operations against WikiLeaks and even journalists like Glenn Greenwald, prompting a congressional inquiry that would ultimately be squashed by a Republican committee chairman.
It’s often been reported, incorrectly, that I was the one to reveal the Themis conspiracy, different aspects of which were in fact discovered more or less simultaneously by several parties shortly after HBGary’s emails were made public. My own initial role, which began when I was informed of the hack as it was being conducted, was merely to explain developments to the press. But as it became clear that the media was losing interest despite clear evidence there was much more to the story, I began working with a rotating team of volunteer researchers to determine further details of Themis and related programs by searching through the remaining 70,000 emails that the hackers had seized and following up on the various mysterious references found therein. Although we made a number of significant discoveries and managed to shed light on other matters, the press didn’t generally realize the significance of these things until later.
On the other hand, I did get to indirectly gum up the works at Endgame Systems, which, though one of the four firms involved in Themis’s proposed operations against journalists and activists, managed to avoid being mentioned in most of the press coverage that followed the original exposure of the plot. You see, Endgame’s execs had insisted in one particular email thread that its name never appear in any Themis operational materials, explaining that the nature of the firm’s central activities was such that any public scrutiny would lead to disaster, and that this was a particular concern of their partners. Other emails ended up working against it, though, as I was able to pique the interest of Bloomberg Businessweek by forwarding this hilariously sinister “NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW” exchange to a contact I had there. A few months later, the magazine ran a long feature on Endgame revealing its ability to seize control of computers across the world and that it was offering this service to unknown customers outside of the U.S. government. This in turn prompted sufficient discomfort that the firm had to stop doing this, or at least claim to have stopped. Perhaps that’s why Endgame Systems was listed on my search warrant — and never mentioned again in a single other filing by the government in my case.
But the chief enemy I’d made was apparently the Department of Justice — because when Team Themis was exposed, the emails revealed that the whole indefensible conspiracy had been set in motion by the DOJ itself, which had made the necessary introductions when Bank of America came to the agency looking for advice on how to go after WikiLeaks. There were no known consequences for anyone at the DOJ; a congressman’s calls for an official inquiry were shot down by Lamar Smith, the relevant committee chair, who proclaimed that the DOJ itself should handle any investigation. Whether the DOJ took Smith’s advice and investigated itself for secretly arranging a corporate black ops partnership is unknown. Rather, it was my head that was to roll, in retaliation for my efforts to keep the story alive in articles I continued to write for The Guardian as well as for my occasional successes in causing difficulties to Themis participants like Endgame and the intelligence contracting industry as a whole, which regularly hires ex-government officials at high salaries and thus has a working relationship with most federal agencies. And so when the FBI came for my laptops and left that search warrant listing the entirely legal journalism entity I’d been using to lead an investigation into the state-affiliated firms that the warrant also listed, I knew from the brazenness of this move that I’d eventually be arrested and charged. I didn’t know for what, exactly, but that was OK — the DOJ didn’t know yet either. Eventually they resorted to indicting me on charges related to another firm, Stratfor, that wasn’t even listed on my search warrant, which were so flimsy that they eventually had to be dropped in favor of a vague “accessory after the fact” count.
Anywho, after that first FBI raid I started reading those little guides on life in prison that one finds online and noticed several references to role-playing games. When I got to the jail unit at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Worth shortly after my arrest, then, I immediately started agitating in favor of a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons or whatever was available, to begin ASAP, with the wooden table in the little corner library to be requisitioned for our use. A huge black guy awaiting trial on complicated fraud charges happened to have the basic mechanics memorized; I drafted him to be the dungeon master. Soon enough I’d also managed to recruit a white meth dealer who was familiar enough with the game to help the rest of us create our characters, a large and bovine Hispanic gangland enforcer who wanted to try the game and was at any rate influential enough to help us secure control over the table, and a fey Southern white guy for atmosphere.
With unlimited paper and pencils provided by the federal government, we had everything we needed except for a set of variously sided dice. It turned out that this was generally handled by making a spinner out of cardboard, a paperclip, and the empty internal plastic tube from an ink pen. This latter item is impaled loosely on the paperclip, itself positioned in the center of the cardboard, on which has been drawn a diminishing series of concentric circles divided into 20, 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 equal segments, respectively. As we attended to this chore at the wooden table, an inmate sitting nearby realized what we were making and proceeded to tell us about a cell mate he’d had during a previous bid who’d used something similar. . .