Archive for the ‘GOP’ Category
In the Washington Post Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward offer a way Congress can trim the budget substantially:
The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.
Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.
The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.
The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.
The data showed that the Defense Department was paying a staggering number of people — 1,014,000 contractors, civilians and uniformed personnel — to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3 million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.
The cost-cutting study could find a receptive audience with President-elect Donald Trump. He has promised a major military buildup and said he would pay for it by “eliminating government waste and budget gimmicks.”
For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. Among other options, the savings could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal, or the operating expenses for 50 Army brigades.
But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.
So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website. . . .
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 . . .
The article by Daniel Gross appears in Slate:
n Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers seemed to hand a victory to the Standing Rock Sioux and their fellow protesters, who have been campaigning to stop the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota. After delaying a decision on Nov. 14, a week after the election, the Army Corps has now said it won’t grant an easement for the pipeline to travel beneath a dammed portion of the Missouri River. The parties behind the Dakota Access Pipeline should look into alternative routes, the corps said.
But the saga is far from over. In fact, the reaction by the two companies constructing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, was telling. Dismissing the ruling as a “purely political action” that was part of the Obama administration’s desire to avoid making a final decision on the project, the companies insisted it would have no bearing on their plans whatsoever. They said they are “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”
In other words, the companies believe that they, not the government nor the Native American tribes whose land could be impacted by the pipeline, make the decision. They’ve deemed the ruling illegitimate because it was made by an administration with which they disagree, and they signaled they will move ahead regardless. Investors seem to agree. . .
Edward Snowden points out that David Petraeus “shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did”
And unlike Hillary Clinton’s inclusion of some classified information (some of which was retroactively classified) in emails on her personal server and thus ran risks of a leak, David Petraeus quite deliberately and knowingly delivered classified material to his mistress, for God’s sake! And nothing (essentially) was done. He lost his job, he paid a fine ($100,000, easily covered by speaking fees), and got probation, and now he’s considered for Secretary of State?! That position, as the GOP has pointed out frequently in their punitive investigations of the emails, involves loads of classified materials.
Anyway, Matthew Rozsa writes at Salon:
Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked tens of thousands of documents revealing that the American government has spied on its own citizens, told Katie Couric on Yahoo News on Monday that retired Gen. David Petraeus, Donald Trump’s potential pick for secretary of state, disclosed far more classified information despite receiving a much lighter punishment.
“We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States,” Snowden said to Couric, “where people who are either well-connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments.”
Snowden went on to juxtapose how he was treated by the federal government with the punishments received by Petraeus, who shared classified information with his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.
“Perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is Gen. Petraeus — who shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists,” Snowden said. “And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover for personal benefit — conversations that had information, detailed information, about military special-access programs, that’s classified above top secret, conversations with the president and so on.”
Snowden went on to say that, “When the government came after him, they charged him with a misdemeanor. He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed.”
In a Yahoo News piece on Monday discussing the Snowden interview, Michael Isikoff disputed Snowden’s analysis. . .
Evan McMullin, a former C.I.A. officer and a conservative independent presidential candidate in 2016, writes in the NY Times:
On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.
Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.
There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.
He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.
There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.
Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.
As a C.I.A. officer, I saw firsthand authoritarians’ use of these tactics around the world. Their profound appetite for absolute power drives their intolerance for any restraint — whether by people, organizations, the law, cultural norms, principles or even the expectation of consistency. For a despot, all of these checks on power must be ignored, undermined or destroyed so that he is all that matters.
Mr. Trump has said that he prefers to be unpredictable because it maximizes his power. During his recent interview with The New York Times, he casually abandoned his fiery calls during the campaign for torture, prosecuting Hillary Clinton and changing libel laws. Mr. Trump’s inconsistencies and provocative proposals are a strategy; they are intended to elevate his importance above all else — and to place him beyond democratic norms, beyond even the Constitution.
In our nation, power is shared, checked and balanced precisely to thwart would-be autocrats. But as we become desensitized to the notion that Mr. Trump is the ultimate authority, we may attribute less importance to the laws, norms and principles that uphold our system of government, which protects our rights. Most dangerously, we devalue our own worth and that of our fellow Americans. . .
Well, we know the answer to that: Donald Trump is extremely thin-skinned and quick to take offense. (Don’t try grabbing him by the genitals—again, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.)
Danielle Muscato’s epic tweet rant in response to Trump’s being offended by a Saturday Night Life skit is presented in full at OccupyDemocrats.com. It’s well worth reading.
Trump had tweeted:
Muscato’s response, which you really should read in full, begins with this tweet:
But, really, read the entire rant. Plain speaking to a man who believes in plain speaking (at least for himself).
Matthew Rosenberg, Mark Mazzetti, and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times:
Days after Islamist militants stormed the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn reached a conclusion that stunned some of his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency: Iran had a role in the attack, he told them.
Now, he added, it was their job to prove it — and, by implication, to show that the White House was wrong about what had led to the attack.
Mr. Flynn, whom President-elect Donald J. Trump has chosen to be his national security adviser, soon took to pushing analysts to find Iran’s hidden hand in the disaster, according to current and former officials familiar with the episode. But like many other investigations into Benghazi, theirs found no evidence of any links, and the general’s stubborn insistence reminded some officials at the agency of how the Bush administration had once relentlessly sought to connect Saddam Hussein and Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Many of those who observed the general’s time at the agency described him as someone who alienated both superiors and subordinates with his sharp temperament, his refusal to brook dissent, and what his critics considered a conspiratorial worldview.
Those qualities could prove problematic for a national security adviser, especially one who will have to mediate the conflicting views of cabinet secretaries and agencies for a president with no experience in defense or foreign policy issues. Traditionally, the job has gone to a Washington veteran: Condoleezza Rice, for instance, or Thomas E. Donilon.
The Last Word
The new job will give Mr. Flynn, 57, nearly unfettered access to the Oval Office. Whether it is renewed bloodletting in Ukraine, a North Korean nuclear test or a hurricane swamping Haiti, he will often have the last word with Mr. Trump about how the United States should react.
For Mr. Flynn, serving as the president’s chief adviser on defense and foreign policy matters, represents a triumphal return to government after being dismissed as agency director in 2014 after two years there.
Heading the agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, was supposed to be the capstone of a storied career. Through tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Flynn had built a reputation as a brash and outspoken officer with an unusual talent for unraveling terrorist networks, and both his fiercest critics and his outspoken supporters praise his work from those wars.
In numerous interviews and speeches over the past year, Mr. Flynn, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, has maintained that he was forced out as director for refusing to toe the Obama administration’s line that Al Qaeda was in retreat. The claim has made the general something of a cult figure among many Republicans.
“D.I.A. has always been a problem child and it remains that way,” said Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team. “Flynn tried to get in there and fix things and he was only given two years until they ran him out because they didn’t like his assessment.”
The congressman added: “They didn’t have an excuse to fire him, so they made it up. Nobody has been able to fix that place.”
But others say he was forced out for a relatively simple reason: He failed to effectively manage a sprawling, largely civilian bureaucracy.
At the agency, “Flynn surrounded himself with loyalists. In implementing his vision, he moved at light speed, but he didn’t communicate effectively,” said Douglas H. Wise, deputy director from 2014 until he retired in August. “He didn’t tolerate it well when subordinates didn’t move fast enough,” he said. “As a senior military officer, he expected compliance and didn’t want any pushback.”
The Boss Is Always Right
Founded in 1961, the Defense Intelligence Agency has long been in the shadow of the Central Intelligence Agency, and with the end of the Cold War it lost its primary mission of collecting and analyzing information about the Soviet military. Strained by a decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was performing an uncertain role within the constellation of American spy agencies when Mr. Flynn arrived at headquarters in mid-2012.
The agency’s system of human intelligence collection was perceived as largely broken. The effort to rebuild it was underway when Mr. Flynn took control in 2012, but he made it immediately known that he had a dim view of the agency’s recent performance.
During a tense gathering of senior officials at an off-site retreat, he gave the assembled group a taste of his leadership philosophy, according to one person who attended the meeting and insisted on anonymity to discuss classified matters. Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his. The room fell silent, as employees processed the lecture from their new boss.
Current and former employees said Mr. Flynn had trouble . . .
Unfortunately, it gets worse. It’s almost as though a team were being put in place to destroy the United States in its economy and influence, and in the process make a nice buck for those at the top.