08/08/2013 archive

Tit For Tat Diplomacy

This week after much hinting, President Barack Obama cancelled his private meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin that was to take place before the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg in early September. The primary reason for the snub (yes, despite what you are hearing in the American msm, in the international community this is a snub) is Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a statement, the White House said that it had concluded there was “not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to hold a US-Russia summit. It cited a lack of progress on arms control, trade, missile defence and human rights, and added: “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship. Our co-operation on these issues remains a priority for the United States.” [..]

The decision to cancel the meeting was greeted with little surprise in Moscow, where analysts and lawmakers have been predicting such a step. Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said the Kremlin was disappointed that Obama cancelled the meeting with Putin, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported. “It’s obvious that this decision is connected to the situation with the American intelligence services employee Snowden, which was not created by us,” he said.

Nonetheless, the invitation to Obama to visit Moscow remains open, and Russia is prepared to co-operate with the United States on pressing issues, Ushakov said.

Nationalist Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky, perhaps the most rabid of the many critics of the United States in parliament, said the decision shows “disrespect” towards Russia.

“If you postpone or completely cancel meetings between heads of state under the pretext of the refusal to hand over one person, then relations between countries will quickly reach zero,” Zhirinovsky said.

Pres. Obama has no room to criticize Russia for giving Snowden asylum considering the fact that the US has given shelter to internationally wanted criminals and refused to investigate or prosecute Americans accused of war crimes

In his opinion article, Glenn Greenwald high lighted the most glaring cases:

New York Times, February 28, 2007:

U.S. to refuse Italian request for extradition of CIA agents

BRUSSELS – A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the United States would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, a case investigated by the European Parliament.

“We’ve not got an extradition request from Italy,” John Bellinger, a legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told reporters after meeting in Brussels with legal advisers to EU governments.

“If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy.”

Washington Post, July 19, 2013:

Panama releases former CIA operative wanted by Italy

A former CIA operative detained in Panama this week at the request of Italian authorities over his conviction in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan was released Friday and had boarded a flight to the United States, U.S. officials said.

Robert Seldon Lady’s release from Panama appeared to avert the possibility that he would be extradited to Italy, where he faces a sentence of up to nine years in prison for his role in the CIA capture of a terrorism suspect who was secretly snatched off a street in Milan and transported to Egypt.

Lady, who left Panama on Friday morning, was “either en route or back in the United States,” Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, told reporters at a midday briefing.

It was not immediately clear what steps the United States had taken to secure Lady’s release.

The Guardian, September 9, 2012:

America’s refusal to extradite Bolivia’s ex-president to face genocide charges

Obama justice officials have all but granted asylum to Sánchez de Lozada – a puppet who payrolled key Democratic advisers

[US refuses Bolivia’s request to extradite its former CIA-supported president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, to stand trial on charges of genocide and other war crimes after de Lozada hires Democratic lobbyists to represent him]

El Paso Times, December 30, 2010:

Luis Posada Carriles won’t be extradited to Venezuela

The US constantly refuses requests to extradite – even where (unlike Russia) they have an extradition treaty with the requesting country and even where (unlike Snowden) the request involves actual, serious crimes, such as genocide, kidnapping, and terrorism. Maybe those facts should be part of whatever media commentary there is on Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden and Obama’s rather extreme reaction to it. [..]

At his blog Informed Consent, Juan Cole notes that Russia has denied visas to US officials who have been accused of war crimes:

A less remarked-on round in this game of tit for tat (which so far doesn’t rise to the level of being very serious) is the government’s decision last April to deny visas to American officials and former officials who had something to do with torture at Guantanamo, where Russian citizens have been held.

The Moscow Times reports

   “The list of banned officials released by the Foreign Ministry in April included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, former U.S. Justice Department adviser John Yoo and various other Justice Department officials alleged to have violated Russian citizens’ human rights. United States Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson, the former head of the Guantanamo prison, was denied a Russian visa in January, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.”

Professor of international law at Princeton University, Richard Falk explained in an article in Al Jazeera, that the granting of asylum to Snowden wasn’t just within Russia’s rights, but was legally compelled.

The most influential media in the United States has lived up to its pro-government bias in the Snowden Affair in three major ways: firstly, by consistently referring to Snowden by the demeaning designation of ‘leaker’ rather than as ‘whistleblower’ or ‘surveillance dissident,’ both more respectful and accurate.

Secondly, they are completely ignoring the degree to which Russia’s grant of temporary refugee status to Snowden for one year was in full accord with the normal level of protection to be given to anyone accused of nonviolent political crimes in a foreign country, and pursued diplomatically and legally by the government that is seeking to indict and prosecute. In effect, for Russia to have turned Snowden over to the United States under these conditions would have been morally and politically scandalous considering the nature of his alleged crimes.

Thirdly, the media’s refusal to point out that espionage, the main accusation against Snowden, is the quintessential ‘political offense’ in international law, and as such is routinely excluded from any list of extraditable offenses. That is, even if there had been an extradition treaty between the United States and Russia, it should have been made clear that there was no legal duty on Russia’s part to turn Snowden over to American authorities for criminal prosecution, and a moral and political duty not to do so, especially in the circumstances surrounding the controversy over Snowden.

And as Mark Weisbot noted

Meanwhile, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks are winning. At the outset Snowden said his biggest fear was that people would see “the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society and that ‘nothing will change'”. But his disclosures have already created a new debate, and political change will follow. [..]

The spectacle of US attorney general Eric Holder trying to offer Russia assurances that his government would not torture or execute Snowden speaks volumes about how far the US government’s reputation on human rights – even within the United States – has plummeted over the past decade.

Legally, morally and ethically, Pres. Obama has no room to criticize Russia on it human rights violations.  

Back in (William K.) Black

The numbering kind of falls apart at 6 and 7.  You have my best guess.

Or you could ignore his system altogether and come up with a dozen or two “epic fails.”

Is B of A the Most Embarrassing Department of Justice Suit Ever?

By William K. Black, New Economic Perspectives

Posted on August 8, 2013

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) latest civil suit against Bank of America (B of A) is an embarrassment of tragic proportions on multiple dimensions.  In this version I explore “only” seven of its epic fails.

The two most obvious fails (except to the most of the media, which failed to mention either) are that the DOJ has once again refused to prosecute either the elite bankers or bank that committed what the DOJ describes as massive frauds and that the DOJ has refused to bring even a civil suit against the senior officers of the banks despite filing a complaint that alleges facts showing that those officers committed multiple felonies that made them wealthy by causing massive harm to others.  Those two fails should have been the lead in every article about the civil suit.

The next most obvious DOJ fail, also ignored, was that the DOJ compounded the first two fails by congratulating itself for holding the frauds “accountable” for their crimes.  One can only imagine the hilarity with which B of A senior officers in their mansions they bought with the proceeds of their frauds must have greeted the DOJ’s latest pratfall.  If DOJ’s leadership cannot find the intestinal fortitude to renounce their infamous “too big to prosecute” doctrine they can at least have the decency to stop praising themselves for violating their oath of office and their duty to the Nation.

The fourth fail adds a new means by which DOJ has caused long-term harm to the Nation.

The complaint alleges that the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLBSF) and Wachovia were prudent purchasers of B of A’s mortgage backed securities (MBS) – unlike the normal, imprudent MBS purchasers whose numbers are so large as to be “countless.”  Any competent defense counsel for the banks and bankers, credit rating agencies, etc. being sued for fraud will be eagerly quoting DOJ and demanding that the courts dismiss the lawsuits of investors that purchased MBS sold with the aid of fraudulent “representations (reps) and warranties” on the grounds that the investors were imprudent because they were “chas[ing] … higher rates of return.”

Fifth, it is hilarious for DOJ to claim that (in 2008) Wachovia, one of the Nation’s most notorious originators of fraudulent loans; was a victim of unique purity when it bought MBS from B of A.  Of course, it was equally hilarious when B of A responded to the complaint by claiming that it could not have engaged in fraud because Wachovia and the FHLBSF were financially “sophisticated.”  Criminologists have long observed how vulnerable the allegedly sophisticated are to being defrauded.

(Sixth) Why does DOJ Pretend that B of A’s Fraud Only Occurred in 2008 in One Deal?

The Complaint demonstrates that B of A engaged in widespread fraud, yet it sues only against one of the B of A’s officers’ relatively smaller frauds (though even it, at $885 million, is huge).

Again, it becomes clear that DOJ does not understand the most basic facts about the actual B of A fraud schemes and is unwilling to bring even a civil action large enough to recover a substantial amount of the losses caused by B of A’s vastly larger fraudulent sales of fraudulent mortgages.  I have explained that no honest lender would take the actions B of A’s officers took to ensure that its underwriting was pathetic.  In the home mortgage lending context this will produce widespread mortgage origination fraud.  Fraudulent loans can only be sold to the secondary market through further fraud.

DOJ is focused on a false assumption that the secondary market is the key rather than the ability to borrow and grow by reporting record (albeit fictional) profits in the near term by following the fraud recipe.  DOJ also fails to ask the obvious question – if the secondary market caused such a drastic and perverse change in home lenders’ economic incentives why didn’t the secondary market purchasers realize that fact and take steps to protect themselves from the lenders’ perverse incentives?  Nobody had a gun to Wachovia and the FHLBSF’s heads and required them to buy B of A’s fraudulent MBS.

(Seventh) An excerpt from paragraph 50 of the complaint illustrates DOJ’s factual and analytical incoherence and indicates why its incoherence has been fatal to any prosecution of the credit rating agencies for their role in aiding and abetting fraud in the secondary market.

These statements are, at best, disingenuous.  The credit rating agencies could have required that they be provided with the loan types on all the underlying mortgage files.  The investors could have refused to purchase the MBS unless B of A gave them the right to review a sample of the loan files.  The credit rating agencies and the purchaser deliberately refused to review even a sample of the files of the loans sold in the secondary market.  Had they reviewed a sample of the B of A’s loan files (and been honest) they would have never have purchased the loans because the quality of B of A’s portfolio was awful – and rapidly falling.

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”.

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John Kiriakou: Obama’s Abuse of the Espionage Act is Modern-Day McCarthyism

Shame on this president for persecuting whistleblowers with a legal relic, while administration officials leak with impunity

The conviction of Bradley Manning under the 1917 Espionage Act, and the US Justice Department’s decision to file espionage charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden under the same act, are yet further examples of the Obama administration’s policy of using an iron fist against human rights and civil liberties activists.

President Obama has been unprecedented in his use of the Espionage Act to prosecute those whose whistleblowing he wants to curtail. The purpose of an Espionage Act prosecution, however, is not to punish a person for spying for the enemy, selling secrets for personal gain, or trying to undermine our way of life. It is to ruin the whistleblower personally, professionally and financially. It is meant to send a message to anybody else considering speaking truth to power: challenge us and we will destroy you.

Mark Weisbot: Mass Media Helps Keep Americans in the Dark About U.S. Foreign Policy

The United States still has military spending that is higher in real, inflation-adjusted terms than it was during the peak of the Reagan Cold War build-up, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. We seem to be in a state of permanent warfare, and — we have recently learned — massive government spying and surveillance of our own citizens. This is despite an ever-receding threat to the actual physical security of Americans. Only 19 people have been killed acts of terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001; and none or almost none of these were connected to foreign terrorists. And there are no “enemy states” that pose a significant military threat to the United States — if any governments can be called “enemy states” at all.

One of the reasons for this disconnect is that most of the mass media provide a grossly distorted view of U.S. foreign policy. It presents an American foreign policy that is far more benign and justifiable than the reality of empire that most of the world knows. In a well-researched and thoroughly documented article published by the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), Keane Bhatt provides an excellent case study of how this happens.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: 7 Things About Prosecuting Wall Street You Wanted to Know (But Were Too Depressed to Ask)

President Obama’s Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Eric Holder, hasn’t indicted a single bank executive for the massive Wall Street crime wave that devastated the economy. The regulatory reform which followed the 2008 crisis wasn’t nearly enough, and yet Republicans are trying to weaken even that.

And just this week there were several news stories about bank crime. What do they mean? Why haven’t any bankers gone to jail? What’s going on in this country?

Here are seven things about Wall Street crime and Washington “justice” you might have wanted to know, but were probably too depressed to ask. It’s true that there’s a shortage of justice where bankers are concerned. But don’t get depressed. Get serious – about demanding change.

Juan Cole: How the GOP Libya Witch Hunt Made Us Close Our Mideast Embassies and Crippled U.S. Diplomacy

About those US embassy closures in the Middle East:  they make the US look like a wimp. [..]

As with George Mitchell and Northern Ireland, the most effective uses of American power have been diplomatic.  But hawks in Washington always want to drag us into foreign wars, in part to benefit their buddies in the arms industry.  The current GOP is divided on the issue of US power abroad, with Libertarians like Rand Paul viewing foreign wars as a waste of money and a fruitless enterprise, but hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham failing to discover a potential war that they don’t just love to death.

But the GOP is inadvertently pushing the US into a posture of dangerous diplomatic weakness.  This weakness is clear in the unprecedented closing of 21 US embassies in the Middle East this weekend because of a vague terrorist threat apparently emanating from “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” based in Yemen.

Jared Berstein: [Threatening to ‘Reform’ the Earned Income Tax Credit Threatening to ‘Reform’ the Earned Income Tax Credit]

Devoted readers know that I’m careful not to shoot everything that moves, but the more I hang around the DC tax debate, the more I’m exposed to deeply misguided thinking that seems largely motivated by the conviction that poor people — in this case, the working poor — have too much money and the wealthy have too little.

That’s the lesson from a report by the Tax Foundation on the “benefits” of getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit — a wage subsidy for low-income workers — and giving everybody else a tax break.

Jim Hightower: Forget Student Loans — Make Higher Ed Free

Well, finally! Hard-right congressional leaders and the Obama White House have agreed that interest rates on student loans should not double to nearly 7 percent, as they let happen early in July. Instead, college students will be billed at a rate that will steadily rise higher than 8 percent.

This is progress?

Temporarily, yes, because the new law drops this year’s rate to 3.8 percent. But, for the longer run, obviously not. Even capping the interest rate at 8.25 percent, as the White House demanded, is too high, for it still saddles students with a crushing debt of some $20,000 to $40,000 for a four-year degree, just as they’re getting started on their economic path.

Do you want Fries with that (revised and extended)?

Fast-Food Fight


Published: August 7, 2013

As measured by the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, low-paid work in America is lower paid today than at any time in modern memory. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation or average wages over the past nearly 50 years, it would be about $10 an hour; if it had kept pace with the growth in average labor productivity, it would be about $17 an hour.

In contrast, the median hourly pay of fast-food workers – most of whom are in their 20s or older and many of whom are parents – is less than $9 for front-line workers and just above $9 when shift supervisors are included. Not surprising, the strikers demanded better pay – $15 an hour – and the right to organize without retaliation.

Also not surprising, they have been motivated to act by the inaction of the nation’s leaders. Republicans are against a higher minimum wage, and Democrats are too timid. Legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats would raise the hourly minimum to $10.10 over nearly two-and-a-half years from the date of enactment. President Obama has proposed a similarly gradual increase to $9 an hour. Congress and the White House also squandered a chance to try to improve workers’ earnings prospects when they let right-to-organize legislation die years ago.

Stephen Colbert and Mary Kay Henry (SEUI) below (autoplay).

On This Day In History August 8

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

August 8 is the 220th day of the year (221st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 145 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon becomes the first President to resign.

In an evening televised address, President Richard M. Nixon announces his intention to become the first president in American history to resign. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in the Watergate affair, Nixon was finally bowing to pressure from the public and Congress to leave the White House. “By taking this action,” he said in a solemn address from the Oval Office, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”

Just before noon the next day, Nixon officially ended his term as the 37th president of the United States. Before departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn, he smiled farewell and enigmatically raised his arms in a victory or peace salute. The helicopter door was then closed, and the Nixon family began their journey home to San Clemente, California. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.