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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Obama Overtime Plan Won’t Hurt Businesses, Executives Admit

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In other words, executives admit to being gratuitously hard on their workforce, just because they can. Power does indeed corrupt. Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 2:54 pm

How the Pentagon punished NSA whistleblowers

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This is the article referenced in the preceding post. As a “long read” in the Guardian, Mark Hertsgaard reports:

By now, almost everyone knows what Edward Snowden did. He leaked top-secret documents revealing that the National Security Agency was spying on hundreds of millions of people across the world, collecting the phone calls and emails of virtually everyone on Earth who used a mobile phone or the internet. When this newspaper began publishing the NSA documents in June 2013, it ignited a fierce political debate that continues to this day – about government surveillance, but also about the morality, legality and civic value of whistleblowing.

But if you want to know why Snowden did it, and the way he did it, you have to know the stories of two other men.

The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

“The government spent many years trying to break me, and the more I resisted, the nastier they got,” Drake told me.

Drake’s story has since been told – and in fact, it had a profound impact on Snowden, who told an interviewer in 2015 that: “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”

But there is another man whose story has never been told before, who is speaking out publicly for the first time here. His name is John Crane, and he was a senior official in the Department of Defense who fought to provide fair treatment for whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake – until Crane himself was forced out of his job and became a whistleblower as well.

His testimony reveals a crucial new chapter in the Snowden story – and Crane’s failed battle to protect earlier whistleblowers should now make it very clear that Snowden had good reasons to go public with his revelations.

During dozens of hours of interviews, Crane told me how senior Defense Department officials repeatedly broke the law to persecute Drake. First, he alleged, they revealed Drake’s identity to the Justice Department; then they withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.

The supreme irony? In their zeal to punish Drake, these Pentagon officialsunwittingly taught Snowden how to evade their clutches when the 29-year-old NSA contract employee blew the whistle himself. Snowden was unaware of the hidden machinations inside the Pentagon that undid Drake, but the outcome of those machinations – Drake’s arrest, indictment and persecution – sent an unmistakable message: raising concerns within the system promised doom.

“Name one whistleblower from the intelligence community whose disclosures led to real change – overturning laws, ending policies – who didn’t face retaliation as a result. The protections just aren’t there,” Snowden told the Guardian this week. “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

Snowden saw what had happened to Drake and other whistleblowers like him. The key to Snowden’s effectiveness, according to Thomas Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), was that he practised “civil disobedience” rather than “lawful” whistleblowing. (GAP, a non-profit group in Washington, DC, that defends whistleblowers, has represented Snowden, Drake and Crane.)

“None of the lawful whistleblowers who tried to expose the government’s warrantless surveillance – and Drake was far from the only one who tried – had any success,” Devine told me. “They came forward and made their charges, but the government just said, ‘They’re lying, they’re paranoid, we’re not doing those things.’ And the whistleblowers couldn’t prove their case because the government had classified all the evidence. Whereas Snowden took the evidence with him, so when the government issued its usual denials, he could produce document after document showing that they were lying. That is civil disobedience whistleblowing.”

Crane, a solidly built Virginia resident with flecks of grey in a neatly trimmed chinstrap beard, understood Snowden’s decision to break the rules – but lamented it. “Someone like Snowden should not have felt the need to harm himself just to do the right thing,” he told me.

Crane’s testimony is not simply a clue to Snowden’s motivations and methods: if his allegations are confirmed in court, they could put current and former senior Pentagon officials in jail. (Official investigations are quietly under way.)

But Crane’s account has even larger ramifications: it repudiates the position on Snowden taken by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – who both maintain that Snowden should have raised his concerns through official channels because US whistleblower law would have protected him.

By the time Snowden went public in 2013, Crane had spent years fighting a losing battle inside the Pentagon to provide whistleblowers the legal protections to which they were entitled. He took his responsibilities so seriously, and clashed with his superiors so often, that he carried copies of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the US constitution in his breast pocket and pulled them out during office conflicts.

Crane’s attorneys at GAP – who were used to working with all types of government and corporate whistleblowers – were baffled by him: in their experience, most senior government officials cared little for whistleblowers’ rights. So what motivated Crane to keep fighting for the rights of whistleblowers inside the Pentagon, even as his superiors grew increasingly hostile and eventually forced him to resign? . . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more: this is a “long read.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 11:48 am

Vindication for Edward Snowden From a New Player in NSA Whistleblowing Saga

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Jenna McLaughlin and Dan Froomkin report in The Intercept:

The Guardian publisheda stunning new chapter in the saga of NSA whistleblowers on Sunday, revealing a new key player: John Crane, a former assistant inspector general at the Pentagon who was responsible for protecting whistleblowers, then forced to become one himself when the process failed.

An article by Mark Hertsgaard, adapted from his new book, Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden, describes how former NSA official Thomas Drake went through proper channels in his attempt to expose civil-liberties violations at the NSA — and was punished for it. The article vindicates open-government activists who have long argued that whistleblower protections aren’t sufficient in the national security realm.

It vindicates NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who, well aware of what happened to Drake, gave up his attempts to go through traditional whistleblower channels – and instead handed over his trove of classified documents directly to journalists.

And it adds to the vindication for Drake, who was already a hero in the whistleblower’s pantheon for having endured a four-year persecution by the Justice Department that a judge called “unconscionable.”

The case against Drake, who was initially charged with 10 felony counts of espionage, famously disintegrated before trial – but not before he was professionally and financially ruined. And now it turns out that going through official channels may have actually set off the chain of events that led to his prosecution.

Drake initially took his concerns about wasteful, illegal and unconstitutional actions by the NSA to high-ranking NSA officials, then to appropriate staff and members of Congress. When that didn’t work, he signed onto a whistleblower complaint to the Pentagon inspector general made by some recently retired NSA staffers. But because he was still working at the NSA, he asked the office to keep his participation anonymous.

Now, Hertsgaard writes that Crane alleges that his former colleagues in the inspector general’s office “revealed Drake’s identity to the Justice Department; then they withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

Crane’s growing concerns about his office’s conduct pushed him to his breaking point, according to Hertsgaard. But his supervisors ignored his concerns, gave him the silent treatment, and finally forced him to resign in January 2013.

Due to Crane’s continued efforts, however, the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Department of Defense for its treatment of whistleblowers, and Hertsgaard tells The Intercept that a public report on the results of the investigation is expected next year.

Crane brings unprecedented evidence from inside the system that ostensibly protects whistleblowers that the system isn’t working. And defenders of the system can’t accuse him of having an outside agenda. Crane has never taken a position for or against the NSA’s programs, or made contact with Drake during the investigation.

“Crane kind of made it a point not to know him,” Hertsgaard told the Intercept on Monday. “He didn’t want it to become something personal.”

For him, it was about whistleblowing, Hertsgaard explained, and the principal that “anonymity must be absolutely sacred.”

Snowden told the Guardian that Drake’s persecution was very much on his mind when he decided to go outside normal channels. And he told theGuardian that colleagues and supervisors warned him about raising his concerns, telling him “you’re playing with fire.”

In his Guardian interview, Snowden called for changes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 11:43 am

“This will stop only when the American people get fed up”

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In Salon Patrick L. Smith continues his interview with Andrew Bacevich:

Part one of my interview with Andrew Bacevich, the soldier-turned-scholar who has just published America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, was posted last week. It focused on aspects of what Bacevich, originally, considers one long war now in its 37th year. We looked at the chronology since Jimmy Carter fatefully set the adventure in motion in his 1980 “doctrine” speech, at the American strategy and how it has developed—and at all that is wrong with it.

Somewhere around the halfway mark in our lengthy exchange, which Salon is publishing with only the very lightest edit, the conversation turned. We dilated the lens, let’s say, and found our way into all manner of subjects. He was interesting in his take on the Cold War 1950s as a prelude to the war that is the topic of his book, and on his pilgrim’s progress from West Point cadet to commissioned officer to his retirement and his scholarly work since. He collects old editions of Life Magazine, it turns out. His capacity for critical thought, the honed tool with which he earns his crust, did not develop until after he retired as a colonel, it also turns out. No need to ask about causality on this point: Bacevich is clear as to the dearth of thought in this man’s army.

Bacevich ends his book on a pessimistic note, and our conversation seemed headed in the same direction. But as he finished explaining his perspective and we prepared to part, he forced me back on a point occasionally made in this space: Find the optimism buried within the pessimism. It is usually in there somewhere. The sourest critic is an optimist, otherwise he or she would not bother. In his way Bacevich seemed to agree: The future seems fixed and grim, but it is up to us in the end.

Part 2 of this exchange, like the first half, was scrupulously transcribed by Salon’s Michael Conway Garofalo, to whom I again offer thanks.

Early in the book you cite Hermann Eilts, a former U.S. ambassador in Cairo and Riyadh. He asserted that rather than gearing up for war, the U.S. would be better served if it sought “an equitable solution to the Palestinian problem.” I thought this very interesting, given how assiduously American officials insist that Palestine has nothing whatever to do with the crisis that envelops the entire region all the way to Afghanistan. Do you agree with him?

I do. I knew him slightly. He was one of the founders of the international relations program at Boston University.

Eilts’s implication is that Palestine lies at the very core of the Middle East crisis. As long as it festers, there will be no peace.

I don’t know that. What I do believe is that Eilts is not the only person who has said that. Indeed, this is an argument that is made frequently by Arab leaders and other leaders in the Islamic world. What I believe is that we have an interest in testing that proposition. The counterargument is, “Oh, when the Arab leaders are talking about how much they care about the Palestinians that is simply posturing on their part. They find it politically useful because it plays well with their domestic constituents as a way of distracting attention from the fact that Egypt is a poorly governed, miserable place.” And so on.

I don’t know where the truth lies. I do believe we have an interest in testing the proposition. In other words, yes, let’s respond to the grievances of the Palestinians—they are real grievances—and then let’s see how that affects the attitude of other countries in the reason toward the United States. If there is no real response, then I’ll concede the argument and I’d guess that the Palestinian issue was simply contrived. But it could be that the argument is sincere and genuine, and it could be that the creation of a Palestinian state actually would provide a real breakthrough in terms of trying to bring about an end to the conflict.

Further, I also recognize that from the point of view of the Israeli government, there is not that profound an interest. From the point of the Israeli government, the status quo is not that bad. I think it’s very short-sighted, but democratically elected governments tend to be short-sighted. The way you get reelected is by responding to the needs, the complaints, the concerns of the people here today, not what their concerns might be 10 years from now. It makes democratic political sense for the Netanyahu government to sustain the status quo. They sustain themselves in power. But frankly, just because it’s in the interests of the Netanyahu government doesn’t mean that it should be in the interest of the United States to play along with him—which is, in effect, what we do: minor complaints when they expand settlements, but basically the relationship is unaffected. The military support continues to flow. The diplomatic protection in the United Nations continues.

If we were to test the thesis, I bet we’d find it absolutely transformative.

I don’t know. But I think it is imperative to examine the outcome.

How do you interpret our Syria policy? I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that we have been behaving with a fair amount of cynicism. While pretending to hold the humanitarian crisis as our first concern, we tacitly tolerated ISIS until recently. Even now, we continue to view Syria through a Cold War template.

The Russians called our bluff. If you recall, the American bombing campaign started [in 2014] as front-page news and then virtually disappeared. I think the Russians called our bluff last September 30 [when Russian planes began bombing runs]. In my view, the object all along has been to eliminate a Russian ally, the last in the Middle East. Only since Moscow moved last September have we become serious about countering the Islamic State.

I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. You may attributing clearer calculation on the part of the Obama administration than they deserve credit for. My sense would be that when the Syrian civil war began, without thinking through what he was doing, the president made his remarks about “Assad must go” with no appreciation for the implications of that kind of a statement. He didn’t appreciate how difficult dislodging Assad was going to be. So the president’s rhetoric was way out in front of his willingness to act. My sense is that in the utter confusion of the Syrian civil war, where the anti–Assad forces came in various stripes and colors, combined with the emergence of ISIS as a force determined to overturn the regional political order, there was a period of confusion about what the United States should do. My sense is that today the administration has established a pretty clear priority, and the priority is to focus on the destruction of ISIS and worry about Syria somewhere down the road.

That said, mustering the military wherewithal to deal with ISIS has turned out to be a far more difficult proposition than the Obama administration anticipated, I think. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2016 at 7:40 am

New Nutrition Facts label approved

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Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 12.34.24 PM

The above is from this report by Sabrina Tavernise in the NY Times. The key changes (but do read the report):

Serving sizes are closer to actual serving sizes. (For example, the old serving size for ice cream was 1/2 cup; the new serving size is 2/3 cup, which is closer to the actual serving size of 2 cups: the single-serving one pint container).

Total calories are shown in large print (along with the serving size).

A separate line is included for added sugar (something the industry fought, of course: the industry is always afraid that if they tell you want’s in your food you won’t want to eat it, so they don’t want to tell you). From the article:

But the sugar industry did not relent in its criticism. The Sugar Association said it was “disappointed” by the F.D.A.’s decision to require a separate line for added sugars. It argued that the rule lacked “scientific justification.”

The association said, “We are concerned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that is not grounded in science, and could actually deter us from our shared goal of a healthier America.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 12:39 pm

Will the raids by Wall Street ever stop? The U.S. Government Is Quietly Paying Billions to Wall Street Banks

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Wall Street On Parade has learned, by piecing together the SEC filings of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and previous Federal Reserve studies, that these two companies that have been in U.S. government conservatorship since the 2008 financial crisis, continue to pay out billions of dollars to the biggest Wall Street banks on their derivatives contracts.

This raises multiple red flags, not the least of which is how much does the U.S. public really understand about the 2008 financial crisis and what appears to be a continuing taxpayer bailout. It is well known at this point that AIG had to be bailed out because it owed over $90 billion on its derivative and security loan contracts to Wall Street and foreign banks. Now, it’s looking like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also Wall Street’s derivatives patsies – or “dumb tourists” as author Michael Lewis might say.

According to Freddie Mac’s first quarter 10K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this is how much it has paid to its derivatives counterparties in just the past four years: $2.1 billion in 2015; $2.6 billion in 2014; $3.46 billion in 2013; and $3.8 billion in 2012. Fannie Mae’s payouts have been smaller than Freddie Mac’s.

We could not find comparable data for Freddie Mac for the crisis years but its 10K for the first quarter of 2011 shows total derivative losses (declines in the value of its derivatives portfolio plus payouts to counterparties) as follows: $8 billion in 2010; $1.9 billion in 2009; and a stunning $14.95 billion in 2008.

Both the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis have conceded in separate studies that placing Freddie and Fannie under U.S. government conservatorship was critical to stemming the bleeding of the big Wall Street banks because of their derivatives counterparty status. The New York Fed’s staff report of March 2015 noted the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The conclusion of the column:

When there are 6,000 banks in the U.S. but only five of them are compelled to hold over 90 percent of hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives, it’s time for the American people to demand and receive cogent answers. That is unlikely to happen without the political revolution that Senator Bernie Sanders is calling for.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 10:01 am

Neocon-Bashers Headline Koch Event as Political Realignment on Foreign Policy Continues

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Zaid Jilani reports in The Intercept:

In the latest example of how foreign policy no longer neatly aligns with party politics, the Charles Koch Institute — the think tank founded and funded by energy billionaire Charles Koch — hosted an all-day event Wednesday featuring a set of speakers you would be more likely to associate with a left-wing anti-war rally than a gathering hosted by a longtime right-wing institution.

At the event, titled “Advancing American Security: The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy,” prominent realist and liberal foreign policy scholars took turns trashing the neoconservative worldview that has dominated the foreign policy thinking of the Republican Party — which the Koch brothershave been allied with for decades.

Most of the speakers assailed the Iraq War, nation building, and regime change. During a panel event also featuring former Obama Pentagon official Kathleen Hicks, foreign policy scholar John Mearsheimer brought the crowd to applause by denouncing American military overreach.

“We need to pull back, stop fighting all these wars. Stop defending rich people who are fully capable of defending themselves, and instead spend the money at home. Period. End of story!” he said, in remarks that began with a denunciation of the dilapidated state of the Washington Metrorail system.

“I completely agree on infrastructure,” Hicks said. “A big footprint in the Middle East is not helpful to the United States, politically, militarily, or otherwise.”

Chas Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, decried U.S. thinking on toppling foreign governments. “One has to start questioning the basic premise of regime change, whether it is to be accomplished by invasion and occupation or by covert action or the empowerment of NGO activity on the ground or other means,” he reflected. “Frankly, it generally doesn’t go well.”

“If you want to know why our bridges are rickety … our children are educationally malnourished, think of where we put the money,” concluded Freeman, pointing to the outsized military budget.

Over lunch, Stephen Walt, the Foreign Policy columnist and Harvard realist foreign policy scholar, said the presidential election is providing evidence that the military-restraint camp is starting to make progress. “On the campaign trail, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have gotten receptive audiences when they questioned certain aspects of foreign policy. Really, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate defending the status quo,” he boasted. “I think those public doubts are not surprising because … our current policy has been a costly failure.”

Walt dubbed his own prescription for foreign policy . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2016 at 8:29 am

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