Category - USA: Presidency

No-fly list uses ‘predictive assessments’ instead of hard evidence, US admits

In May filing, Justice Department and FBI officials admit stopping US and other citizens from traveling is based on what the government believes they might do.

The Guardian, By Spencer Ackerman, August 10

New York – The Obama administration’s no-fly lists and broader watch-listing system is based on predicting crimes rather than relying on records of demonstrated offenses, the government has been forced to admit in court.

In a little-noticed filing before an Oregon federal judge, the US Justice Department and the FBI conceded that stopping US and other citizens from traveling on airplanes is a matter of “predictive assessments about potential threats”, the government asserted in May.

“By its very nature, identifying individuals who ‘may be a threat to civil aviation or national security’ is a predictive judgment intended to prevent future acts of terrorism in an uncertain context,” Justice Department officials Benjamin C Mizer and Anthony J Coppolino told the court on 28 May.

“Judgments concerning such potential threats to aviation and national security call upon the unique prerogatives of the Executive in assessing such threats.”

In First Batch of Released Cheney Papers, a Peek at a Polarizing Figure

New York Times, By Peter Baker, June 19

Washington — In February 2008, an aide sent a news article to Vice President Dick Cheney reporting that former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell might vote for a Democrat for president. Sections were highlighted in yellow, and someone had circled a quotation from Mr. Powell in which he said America had lost “a lot” of prestige around the world.

Mr. Cheney recorded no reaction, but one can imagine some consternation at what the vice president presumably deemed disloyalty to the administration that both of them had served. Mr. Powell had been the vice president’s chief internal adversary during President George W. Bush’s first term and had grown disaffected. An aide clearly understood that Mr. Cheney would want to know the latest.

The article was among a batch of documents from Mr. Cheney’s files that was released on Friday by the National Archives and Records Administration [336-page PDF] in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. More than six years after Mr. Cheney left office, the files were the first made public by the archives about a figure who still generates considerable public interest and debate.

The documents are limited in scope and contain no major revelations about the issues that dominated the era, like Iraq and terrorism. The papers are mainly memos, fact sheets and news articles sent to him in 2006, around the time of the hunting accident in which he shot a fellow hunter on a Texas ranch. But they offer a small glimpse into Mr. Cheney’s time in office.

[…]

In addition to the documents, the archives released hundreds of behind-the-scenes pictures of Mr. Cheney taken by White House photographers, many of them with his adviser David Addington.

[…]

Mr. Cheney’s staff also thought he might be interested in an article about Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, who had called the vice president a name. In the article, Mr. Rangel said he regretted it — sort of. “He is a son of a bitch,” Mr. Rangel was quoted as saying, “but I shouldn’t have said it.”

Sanders Raises $3 Million in Four Days; Will He Split the Party?

Naked Capitalism, By Gaius Publius, May 10

My headline has two parts (you can see it above) but the second is, for me, the most important and the most interesting. I’ve been writing about the split — the chasm, really — between progressives and “progressives” in the Democratic Party for at least a year, and Howie has been documenting the sins of money-bought “Democrats” like the DCCC since forever.

Some want that split to heal, and some want it to widen. Democrats who want it to heal are motivated by two main interests, it seems. One is the desire, understandable enough, to keep government out of the hands of Republicans, who really are the greater evil, if only by a little.

The other interest, though, is more insidious and far less defensible. If the party pulls together, those whose careers are tied to the success of its money-soaked DLC wing will see those careers advanced — in some cases, spectacularly.

The losers in all this? Unbailed-out mortgagees; students with crushing personal debt; the soon-to-explode bomb of poverty among soon-to-retire 401k-holders — the jobless; the poor; the barely-making-it in a Nike and Apple “made in Asia” economy. The bottom 80% who are going nowhere or going down. The traditional constituents, in other words, of the real Democratic Party as constituted in the pre–Bill Clinton years.

Who wants the split in the Democratic Party to widen? Anyone who wants progressive change in America at a non-incremental pace. And everyone, voter or activist, who no longer wants to reward “professional Democrats” — self-serving, money-serving women and men — for their constant and regular betrayals.

Jon Stewart Should Retire More Often

The chains of restraint have been loosed just a bit since his announcement that he’ll be leaving the show soon, and the quality of the show has increased. Last night’s take-down of the former VP was both entertaining and vitriolic – but perhaps I repeat myself.

Have a look:


Bonus: The ‘Murican Awards

The Obama Arms Bazaar

Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
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Obama to Seek War Power Bill From Congress, to Fight ISIS

New York Times, By Jeremy W. Peters, February 11

Washington – The Obama administration has informed lawmakers that the president will seek a formal authorization to fight the Islamic State that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The approach offers what the White House hopes is a middle way on Capitol Hill for those on the right and left who remain deeply skeptical of its plans to thwart extremist groups.

The request, which could come in writing as early as Wednesday morning, would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.

Congress has not voted to give a president formal authority for a military operation since 2002 when it backed George W. Bush in his campaign to strike Iraq after his administration promoted evidence, since discredited, that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed unconventional weapons.

Biden to skip Netanyahu’s speech before Congress

A statement released by Biden’s office indicated that the vice president will be abroad on the day that Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress.

Jerusalem Post, By Michael Wilner, February 6

Vice President Joe Biden will not be attending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress next month.

A statement released by aides to Biden, who is usually in his seat whenever a foreign leader addresses the legislature by dint of his position as president of the Senate, indicated that the vice president will be traveling abroad during the speech.

“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early, but the planning process has been underway for a while,” an official in the vice president’s office told The Jerusalem Post, suggesting planning for the trip began before Netanyahu’s visit was announced.

“We will announce additional information as soon as we are able,” the official said.

Breathtakingly Cynical – Obama’s New Proposal

In a breathtaking display of Cynicism, the Obama administration has announced a program to provide tax cuts for the “middle class,” and to increase taxes on the rich.

This is just a cynical political ploy to polish his appalling legacy, characterized by “Look forward, not backward” in prosecuting torture, kidnapping and illegal imprisonment, coupled with his outstanding lack of effort to remove the US “middle class” from under the health insurance industry’s boot.

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Congress Passes Bill Giving Police Unlimited Access to Citizens’ Private Communications

“One of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

The Free Thought Project, By Jay Syrmopoulos, December 11

Washington, DC – In a sneak attack on the civil liberties of all Americans, the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 was rushed to the House floor with a dangerous Senate amendment added to section 309 with virtually no debate.

The legislation was scheduled for only a “voice vote,” which means that it is simply declared “passed” with voice votes and no record.

This is considered the simplest and quickest voting method, not what one would expect from such an important piece of legislation. For most pieces of major legislation, a roll call vote would be the standard operating procedure.

Thankfully, Representative Justin Amash, when catching wind of what was transpiring, went to the House floor to demand a roll call vote so that everyone would have to have their vote recorded.

The fact that this important piece of legislation was handled in this way indicates that this was done intentionally to sneak it past the public eye. It becomes even more suspicious when you realize that it was done concurrently with the CIA torture report being released and the Gruber hearing.

EFF: EFF Statement on the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Bill
Congress.gov: H.R.4681 – Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – this site indicates that this bill has become law…

Sec. 309) Requires each element of the intelligence community to adopt Attorney General-approved procedures for any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order or subpoena that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of nonpublic telephone or electronic communications to or from a U.S. person, including communications in electronic storage, without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication.

Requires the procedures to permit acquisition, retention, and dissemination of such communications but prohibit retention in excess of five years unless:

  • the communication constitutes, or is necessary to understand or assess, foreign intelligence or counterintelligence;
  • the communication constitutes evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency;
  • the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning;
  • all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons;
  • retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life (in which case the information must be reported to Congress within 30 days of the date such retention is extended) or for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation (in which case the information must be reported to Congress annually); or
  • the head of an element of the intelligence community approves retention for a period in excess of five years if necessary to protect U.S. national security.

Requires the head of an element approving retention in excess of five years for national security purposes to certify to Congress: (1) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect U.S. national security, (2) the duration of the retention, (3) the particular information to be retained, and (4) the measures being taken to protect the privacy interests of U.S. persons or persons located inside the United States.

Telesur: US Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

Another controversial aspect of the bill was that it failed to include a Senate Defense Appropriations panel measure that would have required the National Security Agency to report to Congress on its bulk phone metadata program.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Reps also approved a separate policy bill called the “Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015,” for U.S. spy agencies on Wednesday, which permits “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of Americans’ communications without a court order or subpoena.

Carefully buried in the law is “a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process,” (Rep.) Justin Amash told lawmakers.

“It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American,” Amash explains.

Network World: Congress gave feds the gift of constitutional spying on Americans’ communications

Our New Politics of Torture

NYRB, Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin, December 30

New York Review contributor Mark Danner has been writing about the use of torture by the US government since the first years after September 11. Following the release this month of the Senate’s report on the CIA torture program, Hugh Eakin spoke to Danner about some of the most startling findings of the investigation and what it reveals about the continued political debate surrounding the program.
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