Category - USA: Domestic Issues

U.S. optimistic global trade deal will come into force this year

Reuters, By Krista Hughes, March 4

Washington – The United States expects a global deal to cut customs red tape and streamline import procedures to come into force this year, a senior trade official said on Wednesday.

Mark Linscott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs, said Washington was “pretty confident” the deal agreed in Bali in 2013 would be up and running by year-end.

“It’s quite realistic to expect that the trade facilitation agreement [wikipedia: The “Bali Package”, WTO: Trade Facilitation] can come into force by the end of the year,” he told a Washington International Trade Association event.

[…]

Virginia Brown, director of trade and regulatory reforms at USAID, said the aid agency was ready to work with countries on implementation steps, which in many cases require lawmakers’ approval. “Our bread and butter is drafting that legislation and getting it through the legislative process,” she said.

Ferguson Police Routinely Violate Rights of Blacks, Justice Dept. Finds

New York Times, By Matt Apuzzo, March 3

Washington – Ferguson, Mo., is a third white, but the crime statistics compiled in the city over the past two years seemed to suggest that only black people were breaking the law. They accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. In cases like jaywalking, which often hinge on police discretion, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests.

The racial disparity in those statistics was so stark that the Justice Department has concluded in a report scheduled for release on Wednesday that there was only one explanation: The Ferguson Police Department was routinely violating the constitutional rights of its black residents.

The report, based on a six-month investigation, provides a glimpse into the roots of the racial tensions that boiled over in Ferguson last summer after a black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a white police officer, making it a worldwide flash point in the debate over race and policing in America. It describes a city where the police used force almost exclusively on blacks and regularly stopped people without probable cause. Racial bias is so ingrained, the report said, that Ferguson officials circulated racist jokes on their government email accounts.

CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities

Washington Post, By Greg Miller, February 23

CIA Director John Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber-espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.

The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.

U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.

Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate — a step that would put the agency’s technology experts on equal footing with the operations and analysis branches, which have been pillars of the CIA’s organizational structure for decades.

Via emptywheel: After Failing at the White House, Then Illegally Hacking SSCI, Brennan Wants Cyber

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24

Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.

”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.

”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”

[…]

Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.

The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
Read More

F.C.C. Net Neutrality Rules Clear Hurdle as Republicans Concede to Obama

New York Times, By Jonathan Weisman, February 24

Washington – Senior Republicans conceded on Tuesday that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality.

“We’re not going to get a signed bill that doesn’t have Democrats’ support,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support.”

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

The Guardian, By Spencer Ackerman, February 24

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

[…]

“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

Also, The Guardian: Bad lieutenant: American police brutality, exported from Chicago to Guantánamo
Previously: Guantánamo torturer led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

U.S. Oil Workers’ Union Expands Biggest Plant Strike Since 1980

Bloomberg, by Lynn Doan & Barbara Powell, February 21

The United Steelworkers, which represents 30,000 U.S. oil workers, called on four more plants to join the biggest strike since 1980 as talks dragged on with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, negotiating a labor contract for oil companies.

The USW, with members at more than 200 refineries, fuel terminals, pipelines and chemical plants across the U.S., asked workers late Friday at Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur refinery in Texas, the nation’s largest, to join a nationwide walkout on Saturday, and issued notices for three other plants to go on strike in 24 hours.

This brings the work stoppage — which began on Feb. 1 at nine sites from California to Texas and expanded to two BP Plc refineries in the Midwest a week later — to 12 refineries and 3 other facilities. The union has rejected seven contract offers from Shell, which is representing companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.

An agreement would end a strike at U.S. plants that account for almost 20 percent of the country’s refining capacity. It’s the first national walkout of U.S. oil workers since 1980, when a work stoppage lasted three months. The USW represents workers at plants that together account for 64 percent of U.S. fuel output.

Previously: US oil workers on largest national strike since 1980

Wisconsin Republicans plan to push right-to-work bill next week

Reuters, By Brendan O’Brien, February 20

Milwaukee – Wisconsin Republicans plan to call an extraordinary session to fast-track a right-to-work bill in the state legislature next week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on Friday.

Governor Scott Walker, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, supports the policy and will sign it into law if the bill makes it to his desk, a spokeswoman said Friday.

So-called right-to-work laws prohibit workers from being required to join and financially support a union – such as by paying dues – as a condition of their employment.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from Democrats and a union leader in Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers in 2011 approved restrictions on collective bargaining for most public-sector unions except police and fire amid large demonstrations.

This almost forgotten metric is suddenly driving the oil market

Bloomberg News, By Lynn Doan & Dan Murtaugh, February 18

San Francisco & Houston – It was like clockwork.

Every week since 1944, Baker Hughes Inc. would release its survey of how many rigs were out drilling for U.S. oil and gas. And every week, oil and gas traders would, for the most part, overlook it.

What a difference a slide in oil of $50 (U.S.) a barrel makes. This past Friday, traders were bent over their desks, staring at their screens, waiting for 1 p.m. ET to see whether drillers extended their biggest-ever retreat from U.S. oil fields. (They did.) Oil futures spiked within minutes of the count, closing at the highest level in four days.

“I don’t think I’ve heard ‘Baker Hughes’ more in my life than I have in the past month,” Dan Flynn, a trader at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said by phone recently. “It’s like I’m saying it in my sleep.”

The sudden interest in Houston-based Baker Hughes’s rig counts shows how desperate traders have become to find the bottom of the oil market after the biggest collapse since 2008. The company, which was Hughes Tool Co. 71 years ago when it first released the weekly count, is the third-biggest oil field service provider in the world.

Naked Capitalism: Wolf Richter: The Chilling Thing Devon Energy Just Said About the US Oil Glut

This is the brutal irony: drillers are hoping that rising production achieved with greater efficiencies allows them to meet their interest costs; but rising production pressures the price of oil to a level that may not be survivable long-term for many of them. They can lose money, burn through cash, and keep themselves above water through asset sales for only so long. And this is the terrible fracking treadmill they’ve all gotten on and now can’t get off.

Globe and Mail: CNRL’s warning to oil sands: Cut costs or face ‘death spiral’
Bloomberg: What’s behind Buffett’s exit from Big Oil

Google warns of US government ‘hacking any facility’ in the world

Google says increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise ‘monumental’ legal concerns that should be decided by Congress

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, February 18

New York – Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Justice Department to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.

In a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.

The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.

Huh.

Guantánamo torturer led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

The Guardian, By Spencer Ackerman, February 18

Chicago – A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.

In a dark foreshadowing of the United States’ post-9/11 descent into torture, a Guardian investigation can reveal that Richard Zuley, a detective on Chicago’s north side from 1977 to 2007, repeatedly engaged in methods of interrogation resulting in at least one wrongful conviction and subsequent cases more recently thrown into doubt following allegations of abuse.

Zuley’s record suggests a continuum between police abuses in urban America and the wartime detention scandals that continue to do persistent damage to the reputation of the United States. Zuley’s tactics, which would be supercharged at Guantánamo when he took over the interrogation of a high-profile detainee as a US Navy reserve lieutenant, included:

US sets deadline over financial crisis charges

FT, By Gina Chon, February 17

Washington – US prosecutors have been given a 90-day deadline to assess whether they have enough evidence to bring cases against individuals linked to the 2008 financial crisis, as attorney-general Eric Holder fine-tunes his legacy before he steps down later this year.

Mr Holder, the top law enforcement official in the US, disclosed the deadline on Tuesday and said that prosecutors had been asked to evaluate whether they can bring criminal or civil cases against individuals.

JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and other companies have agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines for mis-selling mortgage securities linked to the crisis. But some lawmakers and consumer groups have criticised the Department of Justice for not holding high-level individuals accountable.

“To the extent that individuals haven’t been prosecuted, people should understand it’s not for lack of trying,” Mr Holder said on Tuesday at the National Press Club in answer to a question about the DoJ’s response to the crisis.

whooohhh, doggie…

Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly To Ban Advanced Placement U.S. History

Think Progress, By Judd Legum, February 17

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4. You can read the actual course description for the course here.

Bonus, Wonkette: Tennessee Makes Jesus Your Savior for You, How Nice

NSA has hidden software in hard drives around the world

Reuters, By Joseph Menn, February 16

San Francisco – The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

Hundreds Protest Fatal Police Shooting in Washington

The New York Times, By Julie Turkewitz, February 14

Pasco, WA — A protest held here Saturday over the police killing of a Mexican-born apple picker had the air of a mournful family picnic.

About 500 people gathered at a park to protest the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, who was killed Tuesday after three officers chased him through a busy intersection with their guns drawn. As he turned to face them, raising his arms, he was felled by their bullets.

According to police reports, Mr. Zambrano-Montes had been throwing rocks at cars and officers.

His death was caught on video by a bystander and the footage has been widely disseminated on social media, fueling anger among the mainly Hispanic population of this quiet agricultural hub in southern Washington State, and drawing comparisons to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.

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