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The Iran Deal: The best deal we can realistically get

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Of course, the GOP has little interest in realism, so they are struggling to kill the deal (and, just as in the case of Obamacare, with absolutely nothing to replace it). James Fallows has an excellent column in the the Atlantic:

The latest set of indicators:

1. Logic. Graham Allison, who originally made his academic reputation withEssence of Decision, his study of the negotiations that averted a U.S.-Soviet nuclear catastrophe in 1962, has another installment in his series of Atlantic essays on the details and implications of the nuclear agreement with Iran. This one is called “9 Reasons to Support the Iran Deal,” and it begins by reestablishing a crucial point about the deal’s critics.

None of them, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “historic mistake” Netanyahu to U.S. Senator Lindsey “it’s a declaration of war on Israel” Graham, has yet risen to the challenge of offering a better real-world alternative. Better is something that would make Iran less likely to develop a nuclear weapon. Real-world is something that the Russians, Chinese, and other nations on “our” side would agree to demand from the Iranians, and that the Iranians would accept too. As the saying goes, this is the worst possible deal, except for all the alternatives.

2. A vote for. Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and “a moderate’s moderate,” tells theAtlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that he thinks the deal is in the best interests of both the United States and Israel, so he will support it. “At the end of the day, I could not find an alternative that would turn out in a better way than the deal,” he told Goldberg, making the essential real-world point. “The risks associated with rejection of the deal are quite a bit higher than the risks associated with going forward.”

[More votes for. Significantly, on Tuesday Democratic Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Barbara Boxer of California sign on. On the WaPo’s site Greg Sargent explains why these are bellwether declarations.]

3. A potential vote against. I take this headline from Politico as a good sign for the deal’s prospects in Congress: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2015 at 7:56 pm

Why The U.S. Isn’t Prosecuting White Collar Criminals

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Mainly because white-collar criminals now control much of the government, but also contributing significantly was Eric Holder’s obvious desire to return to a lucrative Wall Street job and Obama’s apparent hopes (cf. his support of TPP and his support of keeping most of the provisions of TPP secret).

Alan Pyke reports in ThinkProgess:

A British banker is headed to prison for over a dozen years for cheating the markets, but American prosecutions of financial and other professionalized crimes are at their lowest levels in 20 years, according to data compiled by Syracuse University’s Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The decline in American vigor against crooks who keep their hands clean comes as Britain prepares to send a financier to prison for his role in a megabank conspiracy to rig interest rates in their favor. Tom Hayes, 35, was sentenced Monday to 14 years behind bars by a British jury.

Prosecutors called the former UBS and Citigroup trader the “ringmaster” of the small group of bankers who carefully tweaked a key rate called LIBOR over a period of years. LIBOR rigging affected hundreds of trillions of dollars’ worth of financial products across a wide range of industries, potentially harming an almost endless list of individual borrowers and taxpayer-funded governments.

Upon his release, the conviction will ensure Hayes cannot attain the kind of high-powered finance job that might afford him the chance to re-offend. The stiff sentence should also dissuade others in his industry from being cavalier about the law.

Such deterrence is a key tenet of any law enforcement effort. In the United States, a wave of potentially criminal financial activity before, during, and after the 2008 Wall Street crisis has failed to produce any kind of proportional prosecutorial response. The U.S. government is on track to prosecute 36.8 percent fewer white collar crimes this fiscal year than it did in 1995 according to the TRAC data.

William Black, a white collar criminologist and finance professor who helped expose the vast fraud underlying the Savings & Loan (S&L) crisis of the 1980s and then authored a book titled “The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One,” said the prosecutorial neglect going on today makes future abuses more likely.

“This means that deterrence has been eliminated and the fraud epidemics that drive our future financial crises will be led by the same elite bankers who will already have fraud schemes down pat,” Black said in an email. “Both results are in sharp contrast to the S&L debacle, with more than 1,000 felony convictions in cases…that were hyper-prioritized against the most elite and destructive defendants.”

The government’s response to the fraudulent deals that triggered the S&L crisis was far more robust from the jump, as the New York Times has detailed. There were multiple task forces set up within the first two years after the crisis broke that specifically investigated criminal behavior related to the S&L meltdown. By contrast, federal officials took over a year after the housing market collapsed to even propose a task force – and the idea was shot down by Justice Department decisionmakers. It would eventually reverse course and create the task force 3 years after the crisis, but that team was notoriously underfunded and overhyped. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

For example, later in the article:

The administration has even acted to lighten the burden of the few stringent deals it’s won. Just one Wall Street executive went to prison after the crisis, and he wasn’t from one of the mortgage securities firms or loan originators or credit ratings agencies that are primarily responsible for crashing the economy and destroying the lives of millions of homeowners. People much closer to the crisis’ epicenter like former Lehman Brothers head Dick Fuld walked away with their fortunes intact.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2015 at 1:41 pm

In the US State Department, politics is more important than human rights

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

A devastating new Reuters story chronicles how political concerns watered down the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking around the world. The story quotes anonymous diplomats as saying that human rights experts shouldn’t be “purists” when it comes to the forced labor policies in foreign countries that amount to modern-day slavery.

The report from Reuters, based on over a dozen sources, alleges that senior personnel at the State Department, up to and including John Kerry’s chief of staff Jonathan Finer, boosted the grades for 14 countries, over the recommendations of experts at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, known in Washington as J/TIP. Theupgrades included China, India, Mexico, Cuba and Malaysia.

Staying out of the report’s lowest Tier 3 level helps countries avoid U.S. sanctions. In addition, Malaysia’s ascendance to Tier 2 allowed them to remain in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, after a federal statute barred Tier 3 countries from receiving “fast-track” approval for any trade agreements with the United States.

While politics are always part of the trafficking report, this year’s negotiations featured “a degree of intervention not previously known,” according to Reuters. Critics are frustrated by the damaged integrity of the report.

But the diplomats doing the politicizing were apparently frustrated, too.

“Some diplomats say that J/TIP staffers should avoid acting like ‘purists’ and keep sight of broader U.S. interests,” writes Reuters, “including maintaining open channels with authoritarian governments to push for reform and forging trade deals that could lift people out of poverty.” The article did not name names, noting that “U.S. diplomats are reluctant to openly strike back at critics.”

Calling those concerned about the forced labor of human beings “purists” fits with a long and troubling history of U.S. governments ignoring human rights concerns in partner countries, particularly to advance trade deals. A study by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office earlier this year found labor-related human rights abuses in 17 of the 20 countries with whom the U.S. has trade agreements. . .

Continue reading.

In practice, the US has little concern for human or civil rights, and we see that domestically as well as in various policies (e.g., drone attacks).

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2015 at 11:33 am

Why The Obama Administration Wants To Pay For Prisoners To Go To School

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Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress:

“My professor, Miss Jamie Mullaney, she cried the last day of class. And it made me cry,” Terrell Johnson said, sitting across from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on Friday morning.

“I’m in a place where it’s not good to cry,” said Johnson, who’s in the middle of a prison sentence for selling drugs. “But I didn’t care. I felt like this lady genuinely cares if I get this education. That made me wanna try even harder, because I don’t want to let her down.”

Mullaney, the head of Goucher College’s sociology department, wasn’t there to hear Johnson recount how his coursework in the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) has changed him. But Duncan, Lynch, a half-dozen members of Congress, and multiple Obama administration representatives were. The unusual assemblage of guards, inmates, and upper-crust officialdom had gathered to mark the announcement of a White House pilot program to restore federal resources for higher education in select prisons.

“I’m starting to become a better person,” said Alphonso Coates, another of the three inmates that prison officials had permitted to speak with reporters who had been invited to the event. “I believe in myself. The Goucher College program, they let me know that they believe in me also.”

When Duncan asked what the government could do better for people like him, Coates had a concise answer: “Try to invest in the people that’s investing in themselves.”

The Goucher program these men participate in is funded entirely through money the school has raised itself. No state or federal education dollars provide GPEP books, teachers, tutors, and work materials. The program’s costs — about $5,000 per student per year, a sliver of what it costs to incarcerate an adult for 12 months at Jessup — have come entirely from private sources who believe in what professors like Mullaney and renowned historian Jean Harvey Baker and their 70 uniformed, caged students are doing here and at a neighboring women’s facility.

But under the pilot program Lynch and Duncan unveiled Friday, partnerships like GPEP will be able to apply for Pell Grant funding. “The cost-benefit of this doesn’t take a math genius to figure out,” Duncan said. “We lock folks up here, $35,000, $40,000 every single year. A Pell Grant is less than $6,000 each year.”

It’s been 20 years since federal Pell Grants were revoked from prisons during the tough-on-crime heyday of the 1990s, amid a bipartisan political fervor that helped transform U.S. prisons from a corrections system to a punishment business. Two decades later, mass incarceration is a runaway train, and America imprisons so many more people than any other country that it’s hard to even compare the thing in one chart.

Holding so many people behind bars means that American society has to grapple with a commensurately huge volume of released inmates — human beings who have ostensibly repaid their societal debt, but often leave prison with even worse economic prospects for supporting their families legally than they had before they went in. There are 700,000 people released from state and federal penitentiaries each year, Lynch said.

“We talk about that number a lot, and it’s easy to talk about numbers,” the first black woman to occupy America’s top law enforcement job said. “But behind every one of those numbers is a person, and connected to every one of those people is a family.”

The 1994 decision to take Pell Grants away from prisoners has made programs like GPEP a rarity. Inmates who aspire to learn during their time are subject to sometimes cruel whims of a system that manages to simultaneously be very expensive for taxpayers overall but underfunded for actual rehabilitation services.

Vivian Nixon knows the vicissitudes of prison education better than most. She now leads College and Community Fellowship, an advocacy organization for incarcerated education. But years ago, she could have been sitting where Coates did Friday.

“I flunked out of college, and that was a real point of pain and shame to myself and my parents. It just sent me down the wrong road, and I did eventually end up in prison,” Nixon told the group. When she was placed in a prison with a higher-ed program for inmates, she was “overjoyed.”

Three days later she was relocated, this time to a prison with no ability to help her finish her abandoned degree. “I spent 3 years at Albion without access to education, with no access to do the thing that I knew really would heal me, because my core wound was flunking out of college,” she said.

The Higher Education Act gives the Department of Education the power to conduct education experiments like this without seeking specific authorization or money from Congress. Restoring Pell Grants throughout the American prison system will require lawmakers to act. The system unveiled Friday is just one initial step toward making stories like Nixon’s a relic, and journeys like Kenard Johnson’s the standard.

Johnson, who will turn 50 this fall, first took a remedial math course through GPEP. Now, he’s juggling “Black History from 1667 to Reconstruction,” a short-fiction writing class, and either Algebra II or Pre-Calculus depending how the schedule shakes out. (“We never change Goucher’s standards,” GPEP head Amy Roza explained, “out of respect for Goucher but also out of respect for the potential of our students.” Everyone who has enrolled in one of GPEP’s college prep courses has gone on to join the full degree program.)

Johnson wanted to be one of the public faces of Friday’s announcement because “it gives us an opportunity to show them who we are, how hard we’re working, the obstacles we face trying to get an education in a prison setting,” he said. “If society as a whole get to see us for who we are, then it would open up the doors for more prisoners to take college courses.”

Popular attitudes toward the imprisoned and the newly released may be a sort of last frontier for advocates of carceral education as a driver of true personal change. . .

Continue reading.

If we want people to emerge from prison having changed in positive ways, we obviously should support initiatives like this.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2015 at 9:15 am

Edward Snowden Explains Why Apple Should Continue To Fight the Government on Encryption

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And Snowden is right. The 4th Amendment (and the 5th Amendment) are part of the Bill of Rights for a reason. If the government wants to read your emails, it can serve a warrant and seek formal access, not through breaking the encryption. The government truly wants one-sided secrecy: secrecy for itself and its actions, transparency for you and your actions.

Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

As the Obama administration campaign to stop the commercialization of strong encryption heats up, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is firing back on behalf of the companies like Apple and Google that are finding themselves under attack.

“Technologists and companies working to protect ordinary citizens should be applauded, not sued or prosecuted,” Snowden wrote in an email through his lawyer.

Snowden was asked by The Intercept to respond to the contentious suggestion — made Thursday on a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment — that companies like Apple and Google might in certain cases be found legally liable for providing material aid to a terrorist organization because they provide encryption services to their users.

In his email, Snowden explained how law enforcement officials who are demanding that U.S. companies build some sort of window into unbreakable end-to-end encryption — he calls that an “insecurity mandate” — haven’t thought things through.

“The central problem with insecurity mandates has never been addressed by its proponents: if one government can demand access to private communications, all governments can,” Snowden wrote.

“No matter how good the reason, if the U.S. sets the precedent that Apple has to compromise the security of a customer in response to a piece of government paper, what can they do when the government is China and the customer is the Dalai Lama?”

Weakened encryption would only drive people away from the American technology industry, Snowden wrote. “Putting the most important driver of our economy in a position where they have to deal with the devil or lose access to international markets is public policy that makes us less competitive and less safe.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2015 at 1:27 pm

More GOP flim-flam on the sequestration deal

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Kevin Drum points out who is trying to break the sequestration deal:

The LA Times reports today that we might be headed for another government shutdown. Big surprise. But these paragraphs are very peculiar:

President Obama has signaled his intention to bust, once and for all, the severe 2011 spending caps known as sequestration. He’s vowed to reject any GOP-backed appropriation bills that increase government funding for the military without also boosting domestic programs important to Democrats such as Head Start for preschoolers.

The Republican-controlled Congress is also digging in. Since taking control in January, GOP leaders had promised to run Congress responsibly and prevent another shutdown like the one in 2013, but their spending proposals are defying the president’s veto threat by bolstering defense accounts and leaving social-welfare programs to be slashed.

It’s true that Obama has proposed doing away with the sequestration caps. But his budgets have routinely been described as DOA by Republican leaders, so his plans have never gotten so much as a hearing. What’s happening right now is entirely different. Republicans are claiming they want to keep the sequestration deal, but they don’t like the fact that back in 2011 they agreed it would cut domestic and military spending equally. Instead, Republicans now want to increase military spending and decrease domestic spending. They’re doing this by putting the additional defense money into an “emergency war-spending account,” which technically allows them to get around the sequester caps. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s not buying it.

So how does this count as Obama planning to “bust” the sequestration caps? I don’t get it. It sounds like Obama is willing to stick to the original deal if he has to, but he’s quite naturally insisting that this means sticking to the entire deal. It’s Republicans who are trying to renege. What am I missing here?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2015 at 11:56 am

Obama Administration: Using strong encryption can be punished as terrorism

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The Obama administration does not look good in this report by Lee Fang in The Intercept:

The Obama administration’s central strategy against strong encryption seems to be waging war on the companies that are providing and popularizing it: most notably Apple and Google.

The intimidation campaign got a boost Thursday when a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment raised the prospect of Apple being found liable for providing material support to a terrorist.

Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the LawFare blog, suggested that Apple could in fact face that liability if it continued to provide encryption services to a suspected terrorist. He noted that the post was in response to an idea raised by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in a hearing earlier this month.

“In the facts we considered,” wrote Wittes and his co-author, Harvard law student Zoe Bedell, “a court might — believe it or not — consider Apple as having violated the criminal prohibition against material support for terrorism.”

FBI Director James Comey and others have said that end-to-end encryption makes law enforcement harder because service providers don’t have access to the actual communications, and therefore cannot turn them over when served with a warrant.

Wittes and Bedell argue that Apple’s decision to “move aggressively to implement end-to-end encrypted systems, and indeed to boast about them” after being “publicly and repeatedly warned by law enforcement at the very highest levels that ISIS is recruiting Americans” — in part through the use of encrypted messaging apps — could make the company liable if “an ISIS recruit uses exactly this pattern to kill some Americans.”

The blog compares Apple’s actions to a bank sending money to a charity supporting Hamas — knowing that it was a listed foreign terrorist organization.

“The question ultimately turns on whether Apple’s conduct in providing encryption services could, under any circumstances, be construed as material support,” Wittes and Bedell write. The answer, they say, “may be unnerving to executives at Apple.”

One way to avoid such liability, Wittes and Bedell argue, would be to end encrypted services to suspected terrorists. But, they acknowledge, “Cutting off service may be the last thing investigators want, as it would tip off the suspect that his activity has been noticed.”

In a hearing on July 8 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Department officials insisted that companies need to be able to provide them with unencrypted, clear access to people’s communications if presented with a warrant.

The problem is that eliminating end-to-end encryption or providing law enforcement with some sort of special key would also create opportunities for hackers.

Within minutes of the Lawfare post going up, privacy advocates and technologists expressed outrage: Chris Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, called it a continuation in Wittes’ “brain-dead jihad against encryption,” while Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, wrote that Wittes’ post “equates selling a phone that’s secure from hackers with giving money to terrorists.”

If Apple and Google were to cave under the pressure of being likened to terrorist-helpers, and stop making end-to-end encryption, that could be the start of a “slippery slope” that ends the mainstream availability of strong encryption, said Amie Stepanovich, U.S policy manager for Access.

But even so, strong encryption will always exist, whether produced by small companies or foreign outlets. Terrorists can take their business elsewhere, while normal Americans will be left without a user-friendly, easily accessible way of protecting of their communications. “These tools are available and the government can’t get to all of them,” says Stepanovich. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 2:37 pm

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