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Bad faith from the Obama administration to protect TPP

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

The State Department on Monday took Malaysia off a list of countries with particularly egregious human trafficking records, clearing the path for the country’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, one of the top political priorities for the Obama administration.

The move to officially upgrade Malaysia from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the department’s annual report on human trafficking came despite scant evidence that the country has improved oversight of the businesses that enslave workers within its borders. It has raised concerns among some anti-trade activists that the decision was made for purely political reasons.

The trade promotion authority that Congress approved, which was signed into law by President Obama in June, came with a condition: No country on Tier 3 of the human trafficking report could get “fast-track” status for trade agreements signed with the United States.

In other words, trade deals with a Tier 3 country could not go to Congress for a guaranteed up-or-down vote without the possibility of filibuster or amendment. Malaysia is one of 12 countries negotiating TPP. The White House tried on multiple occasions to neutralize this language without success. So the State Department’s upgrade for Malaysia could be seen as a Plan B.

The shift has been rumored for weeks. Malaysia controls a key oil shipping lane to China, and the U.S. sees it as a key strategic partner in efforts to neutralize China’s growing influence in Asia.

The Communications Workers of America, which opposes TPP, condemned the Obama Administration for “placing the completion of the TPP ahead of human trafficking concerns.” Furthermore, CWA legislative director Shane Larson said the change “tramples on our country’s basic values. … We simply should not be rewarding bad actor countries like Malaysia with inclusion in trade deals.”

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who wrote the anti-trafficking provision into the trade promotion authority, pronounced himself “profoundly disappointed” with the change on Malaysia in a statement. He suggested that the report was “subject to political manipulation,” and vowed hearings, investigations and potentially legislation on the issue.

Despite the White House’s contention that trade deals like TPP are “the most progressive in history,” it appears to be overlooking significant forced labor violations to get it passed.

In 2014, the State Department demoted Malaysia to Tier 3 status for being a destination “for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking.” Malaysia’s 4 million foreign workers are threatened by large smuggling debts and confiscated passports that put them at the mercy of recruiting companies. Women in particular, recruited for hotel or beauty salon work, are routinely coerced into the commercial sex trade. And forced labor runs rampant in agricultural, construction and textile industries, producing the same goods that would get duty-free access to U.S. markets under TPP.

There is little evidence that anything has changed for Malaysia’s foreign workers. Just a couple months ago authorities discovered a mass grave of 139 Rohingya Muslims, who fled discrimination in Burma and were sold into slavery upon their escape. Trafficking enforcement remains weak; in April, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun criticized the country for doing too little to stop slavery. The Wall Street Journal found persistent forced labor abuses on Malaysian palm oil plantations in an article published Sunday.

The State Department’s 2015 report reads almost exactly like last year’s with a few words changed, the way middle school students avoid plagiarism for book reports. But they allege that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2015 at 2:15 pm

NY Times screws up totally in trying to do a hit piece on Hillary Clinton

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The NY Times has always done poor reporting on the Clintons, apparently from personal dislike and nothing more. Bill Keller flogged the Whitewater “scandal” for months if not years, despite nothing coming from it. And now this, as Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

The New York Times broke a big story on Thursday night. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Times reported, could be the subject of a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice because of the personal email account she used as secretary of state. The Times reported that two inspectors general had asked for the criminal probe.

This would be a pretty big deal if true. Clinton’s personal email account has already been under intense scrutiny, as many speculated Clinton was using that account to avoid congressional and Freedom of Information Act requests for disclosure. But Clinton publiclyreleased her emails from that account, and insisted nothing was improper or unlawful. A possible criminal investigation would suggest otherwise.

But as the story unfolded, things became a bit more complicated. Most importantly, the Justice Department has said that it never actually received a request for a criminal probeinto Clinton’s email, contradicting the New York Times story. Prior to that announcement, the Times made small but significant changes to its copy, and a high-ranking congressman said the Inspector General’s request was about something entirely different.

The whole thing has been a bit scattered, so it’s worth taking each detail step by step to understand the full picture. Here’s what we know so far.

The Story Breaks, And Clinton Comes Under Fire

The Times’ story was published Thursday night, citing “senior government officials” who said that the Justice Department would be asked to perform a criminal investigation into Clinton’s emails. It asserted that the personal account may have contained “hundreds of potentially classified emails,” and that Clinton herself may have improperly handled the sensitive materials.

The internet then promptly exploded. As a barrage of aggregated articles piled up, pundits put the candidate under fire. On CNN, John King called the allegations “very troubling,” while Michaela Pereira called the story “pretty damning” for Clinton’s presidential campaign. “It feeds into a kind of narrative she can’t quite be trusted,” Earth Institute director Jeffery Sachs said on MSNBC.

Clinton has already faced political lashings over her use of her personal email while at the State Department, mostly from Republicans who imply the emails contain answers to their questions about whether Clinton mishandled the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. So far, Republican investigations over Clinton’s handling of that attack have come up largely empty.

The Times Quietly Alters The Story

Amid the hubbub, it was discovered that the Times had quietly altered the story. “Small but significant” is how Politico described it, and noted that the headline, among other things, had been changed. The first headline, “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” had been changed to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account.”

The change reflects something very important: that the possible criminal inquiry was not necessarily about Clinton’s direct use of her own email. The potential criminal inquiry, then, could now be read as not being focused on Clinton herself. The correction was made in response to pushback from the Clinton campaign, Politico reported.

A Congressman Clarifies The Situation

Things got even more confusing when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said he had spoken directly to the State Department Inspector General. According to Cummings, the inspector general said he had never asked the Justice Department to perform a criminal probe of Clinton’s email.

Instead, he said the investigation was about something entirely different. According to Cummings, the inspector general had identified classified information in a few emails that the State Department had publicly released in response to outrage over her personal account, and told the Justice Department about it. Those emails had not been previously marked as classified, though there was no evidence that Clinton had marked them as classified at the time they were transmitted.

“This is the latest example in a series of inaccurate leaks to generate false front-page headlines — only to be corrected later — and they have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi or protecting our diplomatic corps overseas,” Cummings said in a statement.

The Justice Department Says No Criminal Probe Was Requested

Later on Friday afternoon, Reuters reported that the Justice Department said that it had indeed received a request to look at Clinton’s email, but that it wasn’t a request for a criminal investigation. Instead, the story suggested that the requested investigation may be about how the emails were handled as they were being prepared to be released to the public, alluding to concerns that they may not have adequately censored classified information.

If Cumming’s statements are correct, however, those emails would not have been previously marked as classified, meaning Clinton would not be held responsible.

The Clinton Campaign Responds

As the details continue to unfold, Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill issued a statement speaking harsh words to the Times.

“It is now more clear than ever that the New York Times report claiming there is a criminal inquiry sought in Hillary Clinton’s use of email is false,” he said. “It has now been discredited both by the Justice Department and the Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee. This incident shows the danger of relying on reckless, inaccurate leaks from partisan sources.”

The Times Story Remains In Place

The story itself is still in place, but on Friday afternoon, the Times added a correction saying the original version “misstated the nature of the referral to the Justice Department regarding Hillary Clinton’s personal email account while she was secretary of state.”

“The referral addressed the potential compromise of classified information in connection with that personal email account,” the correction continued. “It did not specifically request an investigation into Mrs. Clinton.”

You can read the [current version of – LG] Times’ story here. [They keep changing it. – LG]

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2015 at 6:56 pm

Pentagon, CIA instructed to re-investigate whistleblower cases

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It seems difficult to get whistleblower protection, and certainly President Obama has accomplished little in that area, but there are slightly hopeful signs, reported in McClatchy by Marisa Taylor:

A government watchdog has ordered the CIA and the Pentagon to re-investigate retaliation allegations brought by two intelligence employees who accused their agencies of major institutional failings.

The action by the intelligence community inspector general is the first public indication that a new intelligence appeals system is underway. The panel was set up by President Barack Obama as an independent forum that can evaluate whether whistleblowers were improperly fired or otherwise punished for disclosures after their agencies rejected their claims.

The cases, nonetheless, demonstrate that the whistleblower system continues to be beset with problems and bureaucratic delays despite being overhauled by Congress and the Obama administration.

“Navigating the system as an intelligence employee is still very burdensome and overwhelming,” said Michael Helms, a former Army intelligence officer whose case is one of the two being kicked back. “A decade after I blew the whistle on inadequate care for military civilians, I’m still waiting for justice.”

Obama pointed to the reforms when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed he had decided to go to the media with classified documents about the spy agency’s data collection programs instead of relying on the whistleblower system. Snowden asserted that intelligence agencies couldn’t be trusted to look into serious malfeasance or protect high-profile whistleblowers.

The two cases are significant because they involve intelligence employees who say they were retaliated against even after they complained to Congress about what they described as significant problems at the CIA and Defense Department.

Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman, declined comment as did Bridget Ann Serchak, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon inspector general’s office.

The CIA case involves former contractor John Reidy who asserts he was punished after warning of a “catastrophic failure” in the spy agency’s operations.

“It was a recipe for disaster,” Reidy wrote in his appeal, which was redacted by intelligence officials. “We had a catastrophic failure on our hands that would ensnare a great many of our sources.”

His lawyer Kel McClanahan said Reidy was in charge of identifying foreign sources and systems in the telecommunications and computer fields that would be of interest to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Reidy also was responsible for developing intelligence operations against those targets, his lawyer said.

McClanahan said his client is not permitted to discuss the case in more detail even with him because the CIA says the information is classified.

Reidy asserts that he first detected vulnerabilities in a CIA program in 2006, according to the appeal filing obtained by McClatchy.

Signs of the problems included “anomalies in our operations and conflicting intelligence reporting that indicated several of our operations had been compromised,” he wrote, adding he noticed “sources abruptly and without reason ceasing all communications with us.”

He also alleged botched intelligence reporting. . .

Continue reading.

From the article:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2015 at 9:45 am

A ‘Golden Key’ for Encryption Is Mythical Nonsense

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In Motherboard Sarah Jeong points out what should be obvious, but something the Washington Post editorial staff cannot seem to grasp:

Last year, the Washington Post editorial board called for tech companies to create a “golden key” that would decrypt otherwise secure user communications for law enforcement. Apple, Google, Facebook, and others ignored the editorial, coming out with end-to-end encryption for iMessage and Facetime, end-to-end encryption for Gmail, and PGP for Facebook notification emails. Now, the Washington Post isdoubling down on its call for a “golden key.”

The problem noted by many last year is that a backdoor to encryption, even if euphemistically rebranded as a “front door” or a “golden key,” is by definition a vulnerability. Building in backdoors threatens consumers and makes them vulnerable to criminals and hostile foreign governments alike. See, for example, the FREAK andLogjam vulnerabilities, discovered earlier this year. The FREAK attack can allow a malicious hacker to “steal or manipulate sensitive data” in transit—think, a password for your online banking, a credit card number, a compromising photo.

Both FREAK and Logjam originate out of 1990s “export-grade” cryptography—purposefully weakened encryption from the last time the government was pushing for the kinds of “golden keys” that the Washington Post is now advocating for. These days, not a week goes by that another major hack makes the news: OPM, Hacking Team, Ashley Madison. All this, even without a federal mandate to purposefully make things less secure.

The newspaper’s editorial board last week called for the National Academy of Sciences to examine “the conflict.” In other words, the Post thinks we had better hear both sides. “All freedoms come with limits,” the board writes, “it seems only proper that the vast freedoms of the Internet be subject to the same rule of law and protections that we accept for the rest of society.”

But it’s not illegal to lock your door at night. It’s not illegal to have a whispered conversation in a park. It’s not illegal to walk out of sight of a CCTV camera. It’s not illegal to carry cash.

Certainly, it is a great blow to law enforcement that some encryption cannot be broken for them, just like it is a great blow to law enforcement that we don’t have the telescreens from 1984 installed in our bedrooms. There are some things law enforcement do not get to see and do not get to have, even with a warrant. That is how things have always been, and our society has yet to fall apart because of it.

For a long time, the fight around online privacy has orbited around the phrase, “Get a warrant.” But that does not mean a warrant is a magic incantation that should conjure any information imagined and desired. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2015 at 9:52 am

Special Broadcast from Opening of Cuban Embassy in Washington as U.S.-Cuban Diplomatic Ties Restored

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A video report from Democracy Now!, which describes it thusly:

History is being made in Washington today when Cuba raises its flag and officially reopens its U.S. Embassy after 54 years. Hundreds are gathering for this historic moment, including U.S. and Cuban lawmakers and diplomats, activists and artists, scholars and historians. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez is leading a delegation of over two dozen officials from Havana, including Cuba’s chief negotiator, Josefina Vidal. Also among the attendees is Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez and former Parliament President Ricardo Alarcón. This afternoon, Bruno Rodríguez will hold a joint news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department, where Cuba’s flag was raised earlier this morning, joining the flags of more than 150 other countries that have diplomatic relations with the U.S. In Havana, the U.S. Embassy will also reopen its doors today. Kerry is set to travel there later this summer for the formal inauguration ceremony where a U.S. flag will be hoisted. Cubans have welcomed the diplomatic rapprochement with jubilation. For more, we’re joined by Cuban-American attorney José Pertierra and Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2015 at 11:10 am

James Fallows comments on the Iran deal

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James Fallows has an excellent comment on the deal we (meaning the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany) managed to work out with Iran regarding their nuclear program:

On Friday, The Atlantic ran an exchange of views among Jeffrey Goldberg, Peter Beinart, and David Frum about the plusses and minuses of the new Iran deal.

To oversimplify: Peter Beinart thought the deal was more good than bad, David Frum thought it was nearly all bad, and Jeffrey Goldberg could see merits on both sides but thought on balance that the deal might be the best of flawed alternatives.

In case you’ve been wondering what the debate would have been like with four participants, wonder no more. And if you’re wondering why I care, given that the Mideast is not my normal beat, here’s why:

— There’s a backward-looking reason: I’ve been interested in Iran since I first visited in the 1970s. Also, I worked for a president whose final two years were wrapped up with, and ultimately destroyed by, the effects of the Iranian Revolution; who believed deeply in nuclear non-proliferation; and who probably would have been reelected if not for his failed “Desert One” mission to rescue American hostages in Iran—some of whom I knew.

— There’s a forward-looking reason too: In the years since the foreseeably disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq, the next-most frequently discussed potential arena for U.S. combat has been Iran. For reasons I laid out in an Atlantic cover story back in 2004, I contend that anyone who has looked at the realities understands that the fantasy of a successful “preemptive” strike against Iran has always been pure, reckless fantasy, an extension of the “cakewalk” delusions that led us into the Iraq War. Moreover, from the American perspective I argue that there is far more to gain than lose in strategies to bring Iran in from its pariah status. (For more on the argument, see the Iran postings collected here, and this.)

To oversimplify my hypothetical fourth-man argument: If I were in the debate I would have agreed with Peter Beinart, completely disagreed with David Frum, and agreed most heartily with the parts of Jeffrey Goldberg’s writing in which he was agreeing with Beinart.

I’d go further. On reflection, I think this is a far better deal than most rational observers thought obtainable—especially considering that “our side’s” negotiators included not simply the U.S. and its normal Western allies but Russia and China as well. I also think that the agreement does more to avert a nuclear-armed Iran than any real-world (not tough-talk fantasy-world) alternative would do.

I know this won’t be the case, but in the upcoming congressional debate I think the burden of proof should be on the opponents to explain what arrangements, in the real world, would have done more to advance American interests and delay or deter the prospect of Iran getting the bomb.

Let’s consider, briefly, facts and judgments.

Facts: There is one simple-seeming factual point that President Obama emphasized in his thoroughgoing defense of the Iran deal at his news conferencea few days ago, and that (my one-time professor) Graham Allison has examined in even more thoroughgoing fashion here, here, here, and here. That point is: If you don’t like this deal, what’s your better idea?

More specifically: What is your better real-world idea, one that could actually come about, not your applause line for a speech or your snappy summary on a cable-TV hit?

Most of the “Oh, we should have been tougher—that would have done the trick!” rhetoric, including David Frum’s in this Atlantic exchange, abstracts away from several realities. Of these, the most important is that the U.S. can’t get its way just because Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, or Ted Cruz thinks it should (as Peter Beinart argued here). Iran is smaller, weaker, and poorer than the United States. But that doesn’t mean it will just accede—a lesson the United States might have learned from its dealings with Vietnam, Cuba, and various Middle Eastern states over the years. Negotiations are what both sides agree to, not what tough guys on one side think that side should demand.

Moreover, Russia and China, while somewhat poor in per-capita terms, are very far from small and weak. The most amazing part of U.S. debate on this deal is how rarely anyone notices that Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China, the opposite of strategic allies of the United States right now, have been shoulder to shoulder with the Western negotiating team so far. Is the thought that because an American hardliner, or for that matter one from Israel, tells them they’re too lily-livered, they’ll suddenly snap to? That’s an argument you might make on a talk show or in an op-ed, but not if you’ve dealt with either country. . .

Continue reading.

Steve Coll in the New Yorker has another good analysis:

In the late nineteen-eighties, in Switzerland, Iranian officials met with collaborators of A. Q. Khan, the scientist who fathered Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb program. The parties may also have met in Dubai, where Khan maintained a secret office above a children’s store called Mummy & Me. In 1987, the Iranians received a one-page document that included the offer of a disassembled centrifuge, along with diagrams of the machine. They reportedly ended up paying as much as ten million dollars for information and materials that helped Iran advance its nuclear program during the nineteen-nineties. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist sometimes described as the closest thing to an Iranian Robert Oppenheimer, oversaw the Orchid Office, working secretly on detonators and on the challenge of fitting something like a nuke on a missile. In 2003, the agency confronted Iran with evidence that it maintained a clandestine nuclear program. Tehran denied any wrongdoing and parried inspectors, then built a centrifuge facility under a mountain near Qom, whose existence was revealed by the United States, Britain, and France in 2009.

This record of deception is one reason that the nuclear accord that Secretary of State John Kerry brought back to President Obama last week runs to a hundred and fifty-nine pages of text and annexes. Paragraph after paragraph seeks to close loophole after loophole. “Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off, and the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place,” the President said last week. If Iran tries to build a bomb before 2025, he insisted, inspections and surveillance will provide the world with at least a year’s advance warning.

The deal’s fine print does include remarkable Iranian concessions, such as the sale or the downblending of almost all Iran’s enriched uranium, and the disabling of a heavy-water reactor at Arak, which could be used to make plutonium. Yet the deal has weaknesses, too. Its protocols for surprise inspections of military facilities could allow Iran to delay the arrival of investigators for more than three weeks, ample time to hide contraband equipment. And although Iran must now provide the I.A.E.A. with answers about its secret atomic history, the accord does not spell out how forthcoming it must be. Inevitably, some uncertainty about Iran’s past weapons experiments—and, therefore, its present bomb-making capacity—will remain.

Congress has until mid-September to act on the deal. It seems unlikely that legislators will scuttle it; Republicans appear implacably opposed to Obama’s diplomacy, yet they may not have the votes to override the veto that he has promised. But, to see the deal through, the President will have to persuade wary Democrats to back him. They face lobbying by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies. Netanyahu continues to intervene in American politics on the Iran matter, despite his slim odds of success and the damage he continues to cause to the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Yet he is a canny campaigner. Speaking on National Public Radio, he homed in on the accord’s surprise-inspection regime as “woefully inadequate” and “completely porous.”

In fact, the accord is tighter and more prescriptive than many I.A.E.A.-enforced agreements, including the one with North Korea that broke down a decade ago. Obama’s best argument, however, is not the fine print but the fact that the deal is better than any other realistic course of action. Certainly it is better than preëmptive war. A more nuanced question that Congress will now debate is whether Obama could have done better by maintaining economic sanctions longer and negotiating for tougher terms. That is an illusory choice, the President argued last week, because, “without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel.” If he is right about that, the accord is more attractive still. The coalition that negotiated the deal now on the table—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union—represents an extraordinary front of unity against nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Holding that rare alliance together will make it easier to challenge Iran later if the ayatollahs do cheat or go for a bomb after the termination of the agreement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2015 at 10:15 am

Prosecutors Rally Against Sentencing Reform, Say Build More Prisons

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Steven Nelson reports in US News & World Report:

Nervous federal prosecutors attempted to rally opposition Friday to criminal sentencing reform in response to President Barack Obama’s week of issuing commutations and making pro-reform speeches.

The president and a bipartisan alliance in Congress say inflexible penalties for various drug crimes should be reduced or eliminated as a matter of fairness. But the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys says elected officials should make no such change.

Obama, who on Thursday became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, would threaten public safety if he signs legislation allowing judges greater discretion, they warned.

“The federal criminal justice system is not broken,” Steve Cook, the association’s president, said at a lightly attended event in the nation’s capital. “What a huge mistake it would be,” he said, to change sentencing laws.

Cook predicted the crime rate would rise and prosecutors would lose a tool to extract information if laws were made more lenient. He also denounced reform proponents for saying nonviolent offenders are being ensnared by tough Clinton-era drug laws. . .

Continue reading.

A vindictive lot, Federal prosecutors. We all remember Aaron Schwartz.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2015 at 9:40 am


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