Daily Archive: 03/13/2014

Mar 13 2014

Torture Cover-up: The CIA and Separation of Powers

The Central Intelligence Agency is an agency of the executive branch and is subject to congressional oversight as per the Constitution’s

The Senate-CIA Blowup Threatens a Constitutional Crisis

by David Corn, Mother Jones

The allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators isn’t just a scandal-the whole premise of secret government is in question.

The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources-no names, please-told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill. [..]

The United States is a republic, and elected officials in all three branches are supposed to be held accountable by those famous checks and balances that school kids learn about in civics classes. When it comes to the clandestine activities of the US government-the operations of the CIA, the other intelligence outfits, and the covert arms of the military-the theory is straightforward: These activities are permitted only because there is congressional oversight. The citizenry is not told about such actions because doing so would endanger national security and render these activities moot. But such secret doings of the executive branch are permissible because elected representatives of the people in the legislative branch monitor these activities and are in a position to impose accountability.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. But since the founding of the national security state in the years after World War II, there have been numerous occasions when the spies, snoops, and secret warriors of the US government have not informed the busybodies on Capitol Hill about all of their actions. In the 1970s, after revelations of CIA assassination programs and other outrageous intelligence agency misdeeds, Congress created what was supposed to be a tighter system of congressional oversight. But following that, the CIA and other undercover government agencies still mounted operations without telling Congress. (See the Iran-Contra scandal.) Often the spies went to imaginative lengths to keep Congress in the dark. More recently, members of the intelligence community have said they were not fully in the know about the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs. Of course, there was a countervailing complaint from the spies. Often when a secret program becomes public knowledge, members of Congress proclaim their shock, even though they had been told about it.

Overall, the system of congressional oversight has hardly (as far as the public can tell) been stellar. And it has raised doubts about the ability of a democratic government to mount secret ops and wage secret wars in a manner consistent with the values of accountability and transparency. What was essential to decent governance on this front was the delicate relationship between congressional overseers and the intelligence agencies.

CIA, Senate and a Constitutional Crisis (if you’ll keep it)

By Peter Van Buren, Firedoglake

Beyond Torture

But we are past the question of torture. What is happening here is a Constitutional crisis. If Feinstein does not have CIA Director Brennan up before her Senate committee immediately, and if she does not call for his resignation and if the president remains silent (“We need to allow Justice to complete its investigation”) then we have witnessed the essential elements of a coup; at the very least, the collapse of the third of the government charged with oversight of the executive.

That oversight- those Constitutional checks and balances- are the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. They are what contains executive power and makes it responsible to the People. But like Jenga, pull out the important one and the whole thing falls.

A Last Question

The only question remaining then is whether the president is part of the coup, or another victim of it. Is he in charge, or are the intelligence agencies? We may have an answer soon. CIA Director Brennan said:

   If I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

So far, the White House response has been to ignore the challenge:

   President Obama has “great confidence” in Brennan, Carney said during his daily briefing. He added that if there has been any “inappropriate activity,” the president “would want to get to the bottom of it.”

Brennan has challenged the president to act. What the president does will tell us much about the future of our democracy. As radio host Guillermo Jimenez has said, “On this Grand Chessboard, it is We the People who are now in check. It’s our move.”

In the words of Benjamin Franklin. “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Mar 13 2014

A Short History of Ukrainian Nationalism

Transcript

Transcript

Mar 13 2014

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

Dean Baker: New York Times Budget Reporting Looks Like RT on Ukraine

RT, the Russian government-owned English-language television network, has been the butt of much humor in recent days. It has mindlessly repeated Russian propaganda surrounding the events in Ukraine. The ridicule is well-deserved. News organizations are supposed to inform readers about the world, not make stuff up. Unfortunately, much of the U.S. media deserve comparable ridicule when it comes to budget reporting.

While news outlets don’t just invent numbers on the budget, it would not be much of a change for the worse if they did. The news stories that we saw following the release of President Obama’s budget followed the same practice we have seen in budget stories for decades. They threw very large numbers at readers that no one understands.

Robert L. Borosage: Common Sense Takes Courage: The CPC Budget

Today, the Congressional Progressive Caucus released its annual budget proposal — the “Better Off Budget” (link not yet available). Budgets are numbing, grist for geeks, not citizens. This budget is no exception, detailing row after row of numeric projections. Produced in conjunction with the Economic Policy Institute, it is a technician’s document, based on a sound economic model.

But amid the numbers, budgets display our values, what we consider important, what we consider fair, how we address our future. Taken together, the blizzard of numbers provides a pointillist portrait of the society we would build.

And here, the CPC budget offers a vivid contrast both to the course plotted by the Republican House budgets of Rep. Paul Ryan and the cautious course followed by the White House. It is a testament to the vision of CPC co-chairs Rep. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, and the work of many members including Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Jim McGovern, and Rep. Jim McDermott.

Eric E. Schmidt and Jared Cohen: The Future of Internet Freedom

OVER the next decade, approximately five billion people will become connected to the Internet. The biggest increases will be in societies that, according to the human rights group Freedom House, are severely censored: places where clicking on an objectionable article can get your entire extended family thrown in prison, or worse. [..]

Much of the fight against censorship has been led by the activists of the Internet freedom movement. We can join this open source community, whether we are policy makers, corporations or individuals. Money, coding skills or government grants can all make a difference.

Given the energies and opportunities out there, it’s possible to end repressive Internet censorship within a decade. If we want the next generation of users to be free, we don’t see any other option.

Norman Solomon: The Feinstein Syndrome: ‘The Fourth Amendment for Me, But Not for Thee’

Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: “Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?”

A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014, blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist. [..]

While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out — and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.

Robert Scheer: Feinstein v. the CIA: A Moment of Truth

It was a truly historic moment on Tuesday when Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor to warn that the CIA’s continuing cover-up of its torture program is threatening our Constitutional division of power. By blatantly concealing what Feinstein condemned as “the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed,” the spy agency now acts as a power unto itself, and the agency’s outrages have finally aroused the senator’s umbrage.  [..]

But clearly the lady has by now had enough, given the CIA’s recent hacking of her Senate committee’s computers in an effort to suppress a key piece of evidence supporting the veracity of the committee’s completed but still not released 6,300- page study that the CIA is bent on suppressing.

Sean McElwee: Six Ways America Is Like a Third World Country

Although the U.S. is one of the richest societies in history, it still lags behind other developed nations in many important indicators of human development — key factors like how we educate our children, how we treat our prisoners, how we take care of the sick and more. In some instances, the U.S.’s performance is downright abysmal, far below foreign countries that are snidely looked-down-upon as “third world.” [..]

America is a great country, and it does many things well. But it has vast blind spots. The fact that nearly 6 million Americans, or 2.5 percent of the voting-age population, cannot vote because they have a felony on record means that politicians can lock up more and more citizens without fear of losing their seat. Our ideas of meritocracy and upward mobility blind us to the realities of class and inequality. Our health care system provides good care to some, but it comes at a cost — millions of people without health insurance. If we don’t critically examine these flaws, how can we ever hope to progress as a society?

Mar 13 2014

On This Day In History March 13

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.

March 13 is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 293 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1881. Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the Crimean War and, after the fall of Sevastopol, to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor Prince Gorchakov. The country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war. Bribe-taking, theft and corruption were everywhere. Encouraged by public opinion he began a period of radical reforms, including an attempt to not to depend on a landed aristocracy controlling the poor, a move to developing Russia’s natural resources and to thoroughly reform all branches of the administration.

Emancipation of the serfs

In spite of his obstinacy in playing the Russian autocrat, Alexander II acted willfully for several years, somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. Plans were formed for building a great network of railways-partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defence and attack.

The existence of serfdom was tackled boldly, taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces and, hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorised the formation of committees “for ameliorating the condition of the peasants”, and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

But the emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.

Alexander had to choose between the different measures recommended to him. Should the serfs become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or should they be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors?

The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander’s brother Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin.

On 3 March 1861, 6 years after his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

Mar 13 2014

The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One

The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One

William Black is an associate professor of economics and law at UMKC. He has held many prestigious positions, including executive director for Fraud Prevention. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management. He is a criminologist and former financial regulator.