Daily Archive: 07/23/2013

Jul 23 2013

The Boland Amendment

The amendment outlawed U.S. assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes.

Beyond restricting overt U.S. support of the Contras, the most significant effect of the Boland Amendment was the Iran-Contra Affair, during which the Reagan Administration circumvented the Amendment in order to continue supplying arms to the Contras, behind the back of Congress.

House forces vote on amendment that would limit NSA bulk surveillance

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Tuesday 23 July 2013 15.26 EDT

Republican congressman Justin Amash prevailed in securing a vote for his amendment to a crucial funding bill for the Department of Defense that “ends authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act.”

“The people have spoken through their representatives,” Amash told the Guardian on Tuesday. “This is an opportunity to vote on something that will substantially limit the ability of the NSA to collect their phone records without suspicion.”



In a sign of how crucial the NSA considers its bulk phone records collection, which a secret surveillance court reapproved on Friday, its director, General Keith Alexander, held a four-hour classified briefing with members of Congress. Alexander’s meeting was listed as “top-secret” and divided into two two-hour sessions, the first for Republicans and the second for Democrats. Staffers for the legislators were not permitted to attend.



Amash’s amendment, supported by a Michigan Democrat, John Conyers, unexpectedly made it through the House rules committee late on Monday night, a feat for which the second-term legislator credited House speaker John Boehner.

The amendment would prevent the NSA, the FBI and other agencies from relying on Section 215 of the Patriot Act “to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”



(Oregon Senator Ron) Wyden, in a wide-ranging speech, reiterated a warning that the authorities government officials believe themselves to have under Section 215 of the Patriot Act might also allow the NSA or FBI to retain bulk medical records, gun purchase records, financial transactions, credit card data and more. “Intelligence officials have told the press that they currently have the legal authority to collect Americans’ location information in bulk,” he noted

Wyden assailed administration and intelligence officials for describing their surveillance as limited in public remarks while secretly briefing legislators about their broad scope.

“The public was not just kept in the dark about the Patriot Act and other secret authorities,” Wyden said. “The public was actively misled.”

On July 2, James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, apologized to Wyden for erroneously saying the NSA did “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans. While not naming names, Wyden alluded to a comment made by Alexander last year in which the director of the NSA said publicly: “We don’t hold data on US citizens.”

“When did it become all right for government officials’ public statements and private statements to differ so fundamentally?” Wyden said in his speech.

“The answer is that it is not all right, and it is indicative of a much larger culture of misinformation that goes beyond the congressional hearing room and into the public conversation writ large.”

That culture faces one of its first major legislative challenges as early as Wednesday with the vote on Amash’s amendment. There are others: a Senate bill introduced in June and co-signed by Wyden would compel declassification of the rulings of the secret Fisa court that sets broad rules for the NSA and FBI’s collection and analysis of phone records and online communications.

Additionally, the NSA itself has indicated its willingness to consider abandoning the phone-records collection provided the telecommunications companies it partners with retains the data. And a former judge on the Fisa court wrote an op-ed for the New York Times advocating the secret surveillance court adopt an adversarial process, with a lawyer appointed to “to challenge the government when an application for a FISA order raises new legal issues.”

Jul 23 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial: A Terrible Precedent for Press Freedom

An egregious appeals court ruling on Friday has dealt a major setback to press freedoms by requiring the author of a 2006 book to testify in the criminal trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with leaking classified information. The ruling and the Justice Department’s misplaced zeal in subpoenaing James Risen, the book’s author and a reporter for The Times, carry costs for robust journalism and government accountability that should alarm all Americans. [..]

It was dismaying that the Justice Department issued a statement approving of the court’s wrongheaded legal conclusion barely a week after Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced new guidelines that are supposedly designed to better protect the news media from federal investigators in leak cases. But the department also said it was “examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case.” That should include withdrawing its demand that Mr. Risen testify about his sources.

This issue tests the new guidelines and their promise not to threaten journalists with jail for doing their jobs, except in “extraordinary” circumstances. If he has any intention to live up to that pledge, Mr. Holder should reopen the question of Mr. Risen’s subpoena.

Dean Baker: Edward Snowden and Financial Speculation Taxes

In the last few weeks Edward Snowden has been holed in Moscow’s airport trying to negotiate terms of asylum with various countries around the world. Thus far it doesn’t seem that Snowden has been able to find any acceptable offers.

Part of the reason is that the United States government has been openly threatening governments that are considering offering asylum, warning of dire consequences. Governments throughout the world take these threats seriously. [..]

This is important background for understanding the effort in Washington to block financial speculation taxes. The basic argument for such taxes is that we have a vast amount of high-speed trading that serves no productive purpose. Much of this trading uses sophisticated computers to get ahead of major orders and siphon off much of the profits for themselves. It’s a high-tech version of insider trading.

John Nichols: Detroit Really Is Too Big to Fail

Does anyone seriously doubt that, if Detroit were a “too big to fail” bank, it would have been bailed out long ago? Or that its pensioners, rather than facing the threat of cruel cuts as part of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s scheme to steer the city into brutal bankruptcy proceedings, would instead have pocketed hefty bonuses?

To ask the question is to answer it.

If the 2008 bailout of the biggest players in the financial sector-and policy-making over the ensuing years-tells us anything, it is that Congress and the Federal Reserve take care of Wall Street.

America’s great cities? Not so much.

Norman Solomon: Obama’s Escalating War on Freedom of the Press

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits “abridging the freedom … of the press” is now up against the wall, as the Obama administration continues to assault the kind of journalism that can expose government secrets.

Last Friday the administration got what it wanted-an ice-cold chilling effect-from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the case of New York Times reporter James Risen. The court “delivered a blow to investigative journalism in America by ruling that reporters have no First Amendment protection that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in the event of a criminal trial,” the Guardian reported. [..]

At the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founder Trevor Timm calls the court ruling “the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades” and asserts that the court “eviscerated that privilege.” He’s not exaggerating. Press freedom is at stake.

Paul Buccheit: The Insanity of Not Having a Financial Transaction Tax

The logic for the tax is indisputable:

1. Financial industry speculation devastated middle-class homeowner wealth.

2. U.S. investors pay zero tax on their speculative transactions.

3. The tax is easy to implement, and is very successful in other countries.

The emotional appeal reaches most of America:

Why should the rest of us pay up to 10% on the necessities of life while risky derivative purchases aren’t taxed at all?

Why should kids around the country lose their arts programs while trillions of dollars flow, untaxed, to Wall Street?

Ted Kaufman: Happy Birthday to Dodd-Frank, a Law That Isn’t Working

Today marks the third anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Sadly, except for a recent promising development that might increase capital requirements for megabanks, the act has not delivered on its promise to fix the problems that caused the financial meltdown of 2008-09.

Failure was built into Dodd-Frank from the beginning. Instead of writing laws that addressed the abuses that led to the crisis, it nearly always kicked the can down to agencies, instructing them to write new regulations. By and large, those regulatory agencies have been overwhelmed by a combination of congressional underfunding and a massive lobbying effort by the megabanks that increasingly seem to control Washington. The Davis Polk law firm’s latest count says that only 155 of the 398 rule makings required by Dodd-Frank have been finalized

.

Jul 23 2013

On This Day In History July 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 23 is the 204th day of the year (205th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 161 days remaining until the end of the year.

THE GREAT COMET OF 1997. Above, the bright head of comet Hale-Bopp, called the coma, is pointed towards the Sun. The coma is composed of dust and gas, masking the solid nucleus of the comet made up of rock, dust and ice. Photo taken by Jim Young at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories Table Mountain Observatory in March 1997.

The comet was discovered in 1995 by two independent observers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both in the United States. Hale had spent many hundreds of hours searching for comets without success, and was tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico when he chanced upon Hale-Bopp just after midnight. The comet had an apparent magnitude of 10.5 and lay near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Hale first established that there was no other deep-sky object  near M70, and then consulted a directory of known comets, finding that none were known to be in this area of the sky. Once he had established that the object was moving relative to the background stars, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries.

Bopp did not own a telescope. He was out with friends near Stanfield, Arizona observing star clusters and galaxies when he chanced across the comet while at the eyepiece of his friend’s telescope. He realized he might have spotted something new when, like Hale, he checked his star maps to determine if any other deep-sky objects were known to be near M70, and found that there were none. He alerted the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams through a Western Union telegram. Brian Marsden, who has run the bureau since 1968, laughed, “Nobody sends telegrams anymore. I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coordinates.”

The following morning, it was confirmed that this was a new comet, and it was named Comet Hale-Bopp, with the designation C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

Jul 23 2013

How Obama’s Drones Spread a Deadly Disease

American’s were so proud that Pres. Barack Obama had found and killed Osama bin Laden in an Abbottabad, Pakistan and continues to defend its illegal drone program that kills more innocent civilians than it does terrorists. The killing of bin Laden and the drone program have had an impact on a deadly disease that was about to be eradicated world wide, polio. The distrust in the vaccination program was created when the brilliant minds came up with an appallingly bad scheme to set up a fake vaccination program to find bin Laden:

As reported by the Guardian and subsequently by the New York Times, intelligence operatives funded a sham vaccination program in hopes of obtaining a sample of DNA to prove that bin Laden, then rumored to be in the area, was actually living in the compound where he was subsequently found and killed. From the Guardian:

   DNA from any of the Bin Laden children in the compound could be compared with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present.

   So agents approached [Shakil] Afridi, the health official in charge of Khyber, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border.

   The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children…

   In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.

There is no evidence the “vaccinations” produced DNA that helped identify bin Laden. The physician named in the article has been arrested by the Pakistani security forces. The CIA has understandably refused any comment. But the allegation that a vaccine program was not what it seemed – that it was not only suspect, but justifiably suspect – has been very widely reported.

This is awful. It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.

This unethical scheme had its deadly consequences in more ways than one. The rumor that the vaccine program was a covert campaign by Western powers to sterilize and kill Muslim children. It’s also put health care workers with the vaccination program at risk:

Foreign Policy has the exact numbers. Up to 22 workers may have been killed-one of the incidences was a roadside bomb, so it might have just happened to catch vaccinators-while 14 others have been bombed, taken for ransom, tortured, or otherwise injured. The violence likely stems from the Pakistani Taliban’s opposition to vaccination, Foreign Policy reports.

Taliban leaders have a variety of reasons they’re suspicious of the polio vaccine. They think vaccinators could be spies for the U.S. military–more on this later–or that they could be part of a plot to sterilize Muslims. Last year, Pakistani Taliban groups questioned why Americans fund both fatal drone strikes and life-saving vaccination programs. Leaders said they would ban vaccinators from reaching them until the U.S. stops using drone strikes. [..]

One doctor, a Muslim, took a journalist on a tour in April and talked about a fatwa placed upon him. In May, a gunman killed him and injured his one-year-old daughter.

Despite all of this, the battle to eradicate polio in Pakistan continues but the impetus is a rivalry with India, where polio was eliminated two years ago

After India’s success and hints from the World Health Organization that it might issue travel warnings, Pakistan’s government went on an emergency footing. A cabinet-level “polio cell” was created. Vaccinators’ routine pay doubled to $2.50. More than 1,000 “mobilizers” were hired to visit schools and mosques to counter the ever-swirling rumors that the vaccine contained pork, birth control hormones or H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Mullahs were courted to endorse vaccination. They issued 24 fatwas, and glossy booklets of their directives were printed for vaccinators to carry.

Perhaps most important, local command was given to deputy commissioners, who have police powers that health officials lack.

Pakistan is closer than ever. Although cases will not peak until after the summer monsoons, there have been only 21 so far this year. A few years ago, 39 substrains of the polio virus circulated; now only two do. About 300,000 children live in areas too dangerous for vaccinators, but almost all the sewage samples from those areas are clear of the virus.

Ultimately, though, success will depend on more than political will and the rivalry with India. In the wake of the recent killings, it will rely most of all on individual acts of courage, like those by prominent imams who pose for pictures as they vaccinate children.

This is an uphill fight, especially in the Peshwar region where anti-American sentiments are very high due to the barrage of drone strikes on the isolated mountain villages where just about every adult male has an AK-47. Lack of sanitation and clean water supplies, along with few government services such as health clinics, garbage pick up and schools add to the complicated picture.

Peshawar worries even Dr. Elias Durry, a normally optimistic polio specialist with the W.H.O. “You can get 90 percent vaccine coverage, and come back a few months later, and it’s 50 percent,” he said. “People just move so quickly.”

Shaheen’s sewers are concrete trenches about a foot deep, into which wastewater, rendered milky white by dish soap, flows from pipes exiting mud-brick houses. A child reaching into one for a stick to play with showed how easily the virus, carried in fecal matter, could spread.

Though the area has clean water from a well, the steel pipe it flows through at times dips inside the sewerage trench. It has dents where trucks have banged it, and it is pierced by connectors, some attached just to rubber hoses. [..]

Pakistani children suffer diarrhea so often that half the country’s young are stunted by it. Polio immunity is low, even in vaccinated children, because other viruses crowd the gut receptors to which the vaccine should attach.

At the clinic in Shaheen, the doctor running the polio drive, an ophthalmologist, complained that he got too little police help.

In the middle of last year, it became known that in 2011, the C.I.A. had paid a local doctor to try to get DNA samples from children inside an Abbottabad compound to prove they were related to Bin Laden. Even though the doctor, Shakil Afridi, who is now serving a 33-year sentence for treason, was offering a hepatitis vaccine, anger turned against polio drops.Leaders of the polio eradication effort could not have been more frustrated. They were already fighting new rumors that vaccinators were helping set drone targets because they have practices like marking homes with chalk so that follow-up teams can find them. Now, after years of reassuring nervous families that the teams were not part of a C.I.A. plot, here was proof that one was.

What Charles Pierce said:

It is possible for the vast United States intelligence apparatus to go 15 minutes without fking up in the most egregious way possible?

Nope.

Jul 23 2013

Chris Hedges: Questioning Everything

In the first of a seven part series, author and journalist, Chris Hedges sits down with Real News Network’s Paul Jay discussing how urban poverty led him to question everything and his commitment to the social movement:

I wanted to be an inner-city minister. You know, I was at the time. I was planning on being ordained. I was planning on spending my life in the inner-city.

And I had a kind of clash (and I write about it in the first chapter of my book Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America) with the institutional church and liberal institutions like Harvard Divinity School that like the poor but didn’t like the smell of the poor. They spent a lot of time talking about empowering people they never met. And that hypocrisy was something that I had great difficulty with. [..]

And I’ve always placed myself in or amongst the oppressed. Whether that was in Gaza, whether that was in El Salvador, whether that was in Sarajevo, I’ve always positioned myself as a reporter in a place where I was amplifying or giving voice to those who were being brutally oppressed. [..]

I would say actually the really seminal moment was moving into the inner city and watching what we do to our poor, the warehousing of our poor, the shattering of lives, especially the lives of children, of poor children. That maybe rattled me more than almost anything I saw. And I’ve seen horrific things. I remember going back to the chaplain at Colgate after a few months of living in the projects and just walking into his office and sitting down and saying, are we created to suffer? And his answer was: is there any love that isn’t?

And I think for a white person of relative privilege to confront the cruelty of what we do to poor people of color in this country and to begin to understand institutional forms of racism, all the mechanisms by which we ensure that the poor remain poor in, you know, what Malcolm X and Martin Luther King correctly called these internal colonies really rattled me, really shook me. It made me question all sorts of things–the myth we tell ourselves about ourselves, the nature of capitalism, the nature of racism, exploitation.

So those two and a half years I spent in Roxbury were quite profound–not that, of course, I wasn’t stunned at the evils of empire in places like El Salvador or Gaza or anywhere else. But Roxbury was quite a shock for me.



Full transcript can be read here