"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Obama Administration’

Obama Administration Opens Up Thousands Of Acres Of Public Lands To Coal Mining

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm
Coal mining in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

Coal mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin

Oldspeak: “Do you get how this makes ANY FUCKING SENSE? Cause I sure as hell don’t. Why act like you care about the ever growing threat of Anthropogenic Climate change to public health? Why pledge emissions reductions, crow about the climate legislation you pass? Why do all that, when you’re literally simultaneously doing things that will make things immeasurably WORSE, subsidizing the sale of one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth? Moreover, how is it that these are supposed “Public Lands” but the public has zero say in what is done with them, and do not share in the private profit being generated on them? Sigh. Pathocracy reigns. More sacrifices made to the Great Energy Corporation Gods in the giant Sacrifice Zone that is America. “Profit Is Paramount.” “ -OSJ

By Natasha Gelling @ Think Progress:

On May 29, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a regional management plan for the Buffalo Field Office, the Wyoming office charged with managing the Powder River Basin, an area that supplies nearly 40 percent of U.S. coal.

Under the proposed plan, the BLM estimates that it will issue 28 new coal leases, which could open up the mining of 10 billion tons of coal over the next 20 years.

That seems like a lot of coal. But is it really?

“It’s a huge amount, especially because the leasing period is the time frame that the world needs to get a handle on carbon emissions,” Shannon Anderson, an organizer with the environmental non-profit Powder River Basin Council, told ThinkProgress.

The United States burns around 900 million tons of coal annually — the amount of coal made available under the proposed Buffalo regional management plan is more than ten times that.

According to a report released by Greenpeace, if all 10.2 billion tons of coal made available by the leases was to be burned, 16.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere. That carbon, Greenpeace notes, significantly dwarfs any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that would come from President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, often considered the president’s most robust action on climate change.

The Clean Power Plan isn’t the only environmental action Obama has taken, so it’s not necessarily a one-to-one comparison — but as Joe Smyth, a media officer with Greenpeace told ThinkProgress, it does offer a useful comparison between what is largely considered Obama’s signature piece of climate legislation and the potential climate impact of the BLM’s decision.

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CREDIT: Greenpeace

“When you look at the emissions from the Buffalo regional management plan, it’s an off the chart, massive amount of carbon pollution,” Smyth said. “These actions by the BLM are still operating under a business as usual approach, and really ignoring the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution.”

The United States produces around 1 billion tons of coal annually, with approximately 400 million tons of that coming from the Powder River Basin. The new management plan, Anderson said, won’t necessarily flood the U.S. market with more coal — instead, it will help mining operations maintain current levels of production, allowing them to tap into new reserves if they exhaust current ones. That’s because the new management plan doesn’t actually change the status quo of land management in the area — it simply keeps coal lease decisions from 2001 in place. According to Greenwire, the BLM found that it had received “no substantial new information regarding coal leasing.”

“The expectation is that it’s maintaining the status quo,” Anderson said. “That decision is really made in a silo, without any consideration of environmental impacts, and especially climate change.”

As Dave Roberts at Vox points out, the regional management plan simply increases the national supply of coal, not the demand for it. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the Clean Power Plan will spur a wave of coal plant retirements, reducing the demand for coal domestically — but that doesn’t mean that the coal mined under the Buffalo regional management plan won’t be shipped to overseas markets.

“The regional management plan doesn’t take into account the potential for exports, even though the coal industry is quite explicit about their desire to export large quantities of coal from the Powder River Basin,” Smyth said. “The Interior Department is still taking the view that that’s not going to happen.”

Under the BLM’s coal leasing program, the government also leases land to mining companies under very generous terms — as little as a dollar per ton, according to Smyth. Environmentalists have argued that the government’s generous prices effectively subsidize coal from public lands, selling coal owned by taxpayers at prices that give coal a distinct advantage over renewable energy. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the federal government has left as much as $28.9 billion in revenue on the table over the last 30 years by offering coal companies below-market prices.

“It’s not just that they’re allowing this coal to be leased, it’s that they’re giving it away for such low prices,” Symth said. “It’s favoring coal at the expense of better and cleaner alternatives.”

Environmental groups had hoped that the Buffalo regional management plan would address both the massive amounts of coal allowed to be mined under current leases and the below-market prices at which those leases are sold. During a speech in March, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stoked those hopes, saying that the government “must do more to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is warming our planet.” She also called for reforming the way that federal coal is valued and leased, saying that “it’s time for an honest and open conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.”

The proposed Buffalo regional management plan, Smyth says, suggests that Jewell isn’t taking her own comments to heart.

“We think the Obama administration has not spent sufficient time and attention on [the plan] given the scale of emissions,” Smyth said. “They really need to understand how big a problem this is in order to reform the [federal coal] program or phase it out over time.”

High Level Congressional Staffer Speaks: An Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm
Jennifer Hoelzer U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) shows off a current version of the computer game "Oregon Trail" on his iPhone while playing the the original version on an Apple IIGS with his Communications Director Jennifer Hoelzer (C) after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) and his Communications Director Jennifer Holelzer play the computer game “Oregon Trail” on an Apple IIGS after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

Oldspeak: “ A big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?” –Jennifer Hoelzer

“Pay no attention President Obama’s or anyone else associated with the administrations’ assurances. There is no real congressional oversight of NSA or most of the deep surveillance state.  There are no effective safeguards against surveillance abuse. They have no intention of  revealing the “legal” rationale for continued blatant violations of Americans’ constitutional, civil & privacy rights. Or changing anything related to bulk collection of your data outside of window dressing “regulation”.  Be careful. take precautions. Use the Tor Network to browse the internet anonymously.” –OSJ

Related Story:

Loophole Shows That, Yes, NSA Has ‘Authority’ To Spy On Americans — Directly In Contrast With Public Statements

Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda

By Jennifer Hoelzer @ Tech Dirt:

In a bit of fortuitous timing, this week we had asked former deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, to do our weekly “Techdirt Favorites of the Week” post, in which we have someone from the wider Techdirt community tell us what their favorite posts on the site were. As you’ll see below, Hoelzer has a unique and important perspective on this whole debate concerning NSA surveillance, and given the stories that came out late Friday, she chose to ditch her original post on favorites and rewrite the whole thing from scratch last night (and into this morning). Given that, it’s much, much more than a typical “favorites of the week” post, and thus we’ve adjusted the title appropriately. I hope you’ll read through this in its entirety for a perspective on what’s happening that not many have.

Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of the week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda,” when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” — much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like SOPA — have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners.” I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years,” he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al Qaeda.

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twenty-somethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the Internet gives those twenty-somethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me) but isn’t one of the things that makes the Internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks — like General Hayden — who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect — online or anywhere else — when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

But my main reason for singling out Tim’s post this week is that Hayden’s remark goes to the heart of what I continue to find most offensive about the Administration’s handling of the NSA surveillance programs, which is their repeated insinuation that anyone who raises concerns about national security programs doesn’t care about national security. As Tim explains this “attitude fosters the “us vs. them” antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn’t come with a price.”

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago — including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college — I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover — and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand — I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden’s office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn’t even tell me about.

Which brings me to my next favorite Techdirt post of the week, Mike’s Friday post entitled “Don’t Insult Our Intelligence, Mr. President: This Debate Wouldn’t Be Happening Without Ed Snowden,” which is a much less profane way of summing up my feelings about the President’s “claim that he had already started this process prior to the Ed Snowden leaks and that it’s likely we would [have] ended up in the same place” without Snowden’s disclosure.

“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

I hope you won’t mind if I take a moment to respond to that.

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which — correct me if I am wrong — is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen — whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist — Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter “requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

“The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act’s most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress – and nearly all of the American public – lack important information about the issue.”

Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

In May 2011, before the Senate was — again — scheduled to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Senators Wyden and Udall — again — called for the declassification of the Administration’s secret interpretation of Section 215. This time, in a Huffington Post Op-Ed entitled “How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?” they wrote:

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.

As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people — including many Members of Congress — think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is — stunningly –classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

During the debate itself, Wyden and Udall offered an amendment to declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance authorities and, in a twenty minute speech on the Senate floor, Wyden warned that the American people would one day be outraged to learn that the government was engaged in surveillance activities that many Americans would assume were illegal, just as they were every other time the national security committee has tried to hide its questionable activities from the American people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMAX_Frj8xM&feature=player_embedded

Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn’t have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we — as critics — could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn’t even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn’t share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. “You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can’t say?” I’d vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President — who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration’s surveillance authorities — jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

No. Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden’s request for a “ballpark figure” of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: “Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;” So, I guess if this was part of the Administration’s plan to publicly debate the NSA’s surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?

And, as I explained in an interview with Brian Beutler earlier this summer, that is just a fraction of the ways the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Communities ignored and even thwarted our attempts to consult the public on these surveillance programs before they were reauthorized. In fact, after the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which Wyden attempted to close the FAA’s Section 702 loophole, which another important Techdirt post this week explains, “gives the NSA ‘authority’ to run searches on Americans without any kind of warrant,” I — as Wyden’s spokesperson — was specifically barred from explaining the Senator’s opposition to the legislation to the reporters. In fact, the exact response I was allowed to give reporters was:

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released. The fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.

That’s right, supporters of a full scale reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act put out a press release explaining why this was a good thing, while explicitly barring the Senator who voted against the legislation from explaining his concerns.

Months later, the FISA Amendments Act, which the Administration contends authorizes its PRISM program, passed without the open debate that the President now contends he wanted all along. And, again, I’m only touching on a fraction of the efforts just Senator Wyden made to compel the administration to engage the American people in a democratic debate. I, obviously, haven’t mentioned the Director of National Intelligence’s decision to lie when Wyden “asked whether the NSA had collected ‘any type of data at all on millions of Americans.'” (Btw: Given that Wyden shared his question with the ODNI the day before the hearing, I am highly skeptical that Clapper’s decision to lie was made unilaterally.) Or the fact that the Obama Administration repeatedly fought lawsuits and FOIA requests for, again — not sources and methods — but the Section 215 legal interpretation that the Administration claims authorizes its surveillance authorities.

The below is an excerpt from a March 2012 letter that Wyden and Udall sent the Obama Administration urging them to respect the democratic process:

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss these Freedom of Information Act lawsuits argues that it is the responsibility of the executive branch to determine the best way to protect the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods. While this is indeed a determination for the executive branch to make, we are concerned that the executive branch has developed a practice of bypassing traditional checks and balances and treating these determinations as dispositive in all cases. In other words, when intelligence officials argue that something should stay secret, policy makers often seem to defer to them without carefully considering the issue themselves. We have great respect for our nation’s intelligence officers, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and dedicated professionals. But intelligence officials are specialists — it is their job to determine how to collect as much information as possible, but it is not their job to balance the need for secrecy with the public’s right to know how the law is being interpreted. That responsibility rests with policy makers, and we believe that responsibility should not be delegated lightly.

But, as Mike’s last post on Friday explains, “President Obama flat out admitted that this was about appeasing a public that doesn’t trust the administration, not about reducing the surveillance.” Mike’s insight continues:

Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place.

I’d go even further than that and argue that a big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?

I think it’s understandably hard for the American people to trust the President when he says his Administration has the legal authority to conduct these surveillance programs when one of the few things that remains classified about these programs is the legal argument that the administration says gives the NSA the authority to conduct these programs. This is the document that explains why the Administration believes the word “relevant” gives them the authority to collect everything. It’s also the document I’d most like to see since it’s the document my former boss has been requesting be declassified for more than half a decade. (A reporter recently asked me why I think the Administration won’t just declassify the legal opinion given that the sources and methods it relates to have already been made public. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I believe it will be much harder for the Administration to claim that these programs are legal, if people can see their legal argument.”)

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust the President when his administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to silence critics and — again — treat oversight as a threat on par with al Qaeda. As another great Techdirt post this week — US Releases Redacted Document Twice… With Different Redactions — illustrates, many of the Intelligence Community’s classification decisions seem to be based more on a desire to avoid criticism than clear national security interests. And as Senator Wyden said back in 2007, when then CIA Director Hayden (yes, the same guy who thinks we’re all losers who can’t get laid) attempted to undermine oversight over his agency by launching an investigation into the CIA’s inspector general, “people who know that they’re doing the right thing aren’t afraid of oversight.”

Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most. Ed Snowden’s Email Provider, Lavabit, Shuts Down To Fight US Gov’t Intrusion. Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit — the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden’s email account — decided to shut down his email service this week.

Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levon included in his email informing customers of his decision:

“I feel you deserve to know what’s going on,” he wrote. “The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.”

He’s right, isn’t he? If these aren’t the moments the First Amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the Administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?

In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House Committee on Operations which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:

Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully informed public is the basis of self government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people.

Which brings me to my final point (at least for now) I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

 

In 2009 Obama Administration Committed To Creating An Unprecedented Level Of Openness In Government. In 2012 Government Censorship & Secrecy Hit All Time High

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Oldspeak:“In this weeks edition of “Doublethink Theater” We have a quote from President Obama’s First day in office, January 21, 2009 “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”  Then this from his Memo on Transparency and Open Government: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” Fast forward to 2013 and a quote from Alexander Abdo, ACLU National Security Project Attorney: “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration”  And this from Federal Judge Colleen McMahon after ruling against the New York Times and ACLU in its request to see government records providing legal justification for its assassination program: “I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. After authoring such transparency promoting law as The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act as a Senator, President Obama’s administration has censored & denied more requests for information than ever before, while taking much longer to respond to requests in general. Upholding “secret laws”. Flouting the constitution. Making legally unchallengeable secrecy claims. Prosecuting and jailing more government whistleblowers than any other President in history. While those who’ve engage in the fraud, waste, abuse and malfeasance whistleblowers have reported, continue to do so unmolested with no fear of reprisal;  in fact, in some egregious cases actually being rewarded with promotions.  Given these precedents, you can safely infer that next Administration will be even less transparent in its operations. Less responsive to the people.  America’s Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy, will continue to grow, weakening representative democracy until the country collapses under the weight of rampant greed, criminality and corruption.  All in the name of “National Security”.
“2+2=5”.
“Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Jack Gillum & Ted Bridis @ The Associated Press:

The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but more often than it ever has it cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The AP’s analysis showed the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration’s performance on government transparency since Obama’s election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 — an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 — more than 603,000 — a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law’s exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government’s responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices’ transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

The AP’s review comes at the start of the second term for Obama, who promised during his first week in office that the nation’s signature open-records law would be “administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The review examined figures from the largest federal departments and agencies. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that during the past year, the government “processed more requests, decreased the backlog, improved average processing times and disclosed more information pro-actively.” Schultz said the improvements “represent the efforts of agencies across the government to meet the president’s commitment to openness. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.”

In a year of intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.

Other federal agencies that invoked the national security exception included the Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, NASA, Office of Management and Budget, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

U.S. courts are loath to overrule the administration whenever it cites national security. A federal judge, Colleen McMahon of New York, in January ruled against The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to see records about the government’s legal justification for drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas, including American citizens. She cited an “Alice in Wonderland” predicament in which she was expected to determine what information should be revealed but unable to challenge the government’s secrecy claim. Part of her ruling was sealed and made available only to the government’s lawyers.

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exemption or whether the public was asking for more documents about sensitive subjects. Nearly half the Pentagon’s 2,390 denials last year under that clause came from its National Security Agency, which monitors Internet traffic and phone calls worldwide.

“FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don’t think that’s changed over the last four years since Obama took office,” said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”

The Obama administration also more frequently invoked the law’s “deliberative process” exception to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. After back-to-back years when figures steadily declined, as agencies followed the president’s instructions, the government cited that reason 66,353 times last year to keep records or parts of records secret.

The Homeland Security Department, which includes offices that deal with immigration files, received more than twice as many requests for records — 190,589 new requests last year — as any other agency, and it answered significantly more requests than it did in 2011. Other agencies, including the State Department, National Transportation Safety Board and Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed worse last year. The State Department, for example, answered only 57 percent of its requests, down from 75 percent a year earlier.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services drove a dramatic increase in the number of times DHS censored immigration records under exceptions to police files containing personal information and law enforcement techniques. The agency invoked those exemptions more than 136,000 times in 2012, compared with more than 75,000 a year earlier. Even though USCIS is not a law-enforcement agency, officials used the exceptions specifically reserved for law enforcement.

Under the law, a citizen can ask the government to reconsider its decision to censor or withhold materials. In the roughly 11,000 such instances last year where that happened, the government prevailed just under half the time. In about 3,400 cases the government turned over at least some additional information. These administrative appeals took about five months each.

The only recourse after such an appeal is an expensive lawsuit or to ask the government’s FOIA mediator, the U.S. Office of Government Information Services, to intervene.

The AP’s analysis also found that the government generally took longer to answer requests. Some agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, took less time than the previous year to turn over files. But at the State Department, for example, even urgent requests submitted under a fast-track system covering breaking news or events when a person’s life was at stake took an average two years to wait for files.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse last year. The rate at which the government granted so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request to the front of the line for a speedy answer, fell from 24 percent in 2011 to 17 percent last year. The CIA denied every such request last year.

Under increased budget pressure across the government, agencies more often insisted that people pay search and copying fees. It waived costs in 59 percent of requests, generally when the amount was negligible or the release of the information is in the public interest, a decline from 64 percent of cases a year earlier. At the Treasury Department, which faced questions about its role in auto bailouts and stimulus programs during Obama’s first term, only one in five requests were processed at no charge. A year earlier, it granted more than 75 percent of fee waivers. The CIA denied every request last year to waive fees.

The 33 agencies that AP examined were: Agency for International Development, CIA, Agriculture Department, Commerce Department, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Defense Department, Education Department, Energy Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Interior Department, Justice Department, Labor Department, State Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Election Commission, Federal Trade Commission, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission, Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jackgillum

 

 

YES WE CAN! Obama Administration Affirms Right To Use The Military To Assassinate Americans On American Soil Without Due Process

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

THE SINKHOLE OF LIBERTYOldspeak: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” –U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s official. You can be killed by the U.S. military on American soil at the whim of the President without due process or any discernible evidence of wrongdoing, suspicion and or accusation from an “Informed, high-level” administration official is all that is required. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the Posse Comitatus act. Never mind that it is a flagrant violation of the 5th & 6th amendments to the constitution. Never mind that there is no appropriateness under the constitution and applicable laws to extrajudicial killing as claimed in this executive branch decree. Your rights to freedom from being deprived of  life, without due process of law, have been suspended. With zero oversight from congress, the lawmaking body, that is supposed to represent the will of the people.   How much more will the power of the Unitary Executive be expanded before the people oppose it?”

By Washington’s Blog:

Because America Is a Battlefield In The Eyes of the Government

Attorney general Eric Holder wrote the following to Senator Rand Paul yesterday:

On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Administration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.

The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.

There’s more to the following statement than appears at first blush:

As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

Specifically, Holder did not say “we are legally constrained by the Constitution from depriving people of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and from using military force on U.S. soil”.  Instead, he said that the Obama administration was so far abstaining from using a power it already has as a current “policy” decision.

John Glaser notes:

The concluding legal opinion represents a radical betrayal of constitutional limits imposed on the state for depriving citizens of life, liberty and property. Officially now, Obama’s kingly authority to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner and deprive Americans of their life without due process of law applies not only to Americans abroad but to citizens that are inside the United States.

“The US Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

Holder, along with the Obama administration, is making it seem as if the President’s use of lethal force, as in the drone war, would only be used in circumstances like another impending 9/11 attack or something. Only when an attack is imminent.

But that categorical limitation on the President’s authority to kill depends upon their definition of “imminence,” which we learned from a leaked Justice Department white paper last month, is extremely broad.

The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence of an ongoing plot against the US.

“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.

Instead, so long as an “informed, high-level” US official claims the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” that pose a threat and “there is  no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” then the President can order his assassination. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”

Holder also insists that in the case of such “extraordinary circumstances,” like another impending 9/11, he ”would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president of the scope of his authority.”

Boy, do I feel comforted.

This is not entirely surprising.  As we noted in December 2011, a top constitutional expert confirmed that Obama was claiming the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil.   We reported that month:

For more than a year and a half, the Obama administration has said it could target American citizens for assassination without any trial or due process.

But now, as shown by the debates surrounding indefinite detention, the government is saying that America itself is a battlefield.

AP notes today:

U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.

***

The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

The courts in habeas cases, such as those involving whether a detainee should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, make the determination of who can be considered an enemy combatant.

We pointed out a year ago, the director of the FBI said he’d have to “check” to see if the president had the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. We reported last October that form Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo – the guy who wrote the memo justifying torture, even of children, which was used to justify torture of innocent people, including children – said that the president has the power to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil in times of war.

And Mother Jones notes:

In a Google+ Hangout last month, President Obama refused to say directly if he had the authority to use lethal force against US citizens. As Mother Jones reported at the time, the reason the president was being so coy is that the answer was likely yes. Now we know that’s exactly what was happening.

It is not very reassuring that the same unaccountable agency which decides who should be killed by drones also spies on all Americans.

Indeed:

You might assume – in a vacuum – that this might be okay (even though it trashes the Constitution, the separation of military and police actions, and the division between internal and external affairs).

But it is dangerous in a climate where you can be labeled as or suspected of being a terrorist simply for questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, or stocking up on more than 7 days of food. And see this.

And it is problematic in a period in which FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, constitutional law expert professor Jonathan Turley, Time Magazine, Keith Olbermann and the Washington Post have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”, and even former Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – admitst hat he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.

And it is counter-productive in an age when the government – instead of doing the things which could actually make us safer – are doing things which increase the risk of terrorism.

And it is insane in a time of perpetual war. See this, this, this and this.

And when the “War on Terror” in the Middle East and North Africa which is being used to justify the attack on Americans was planned long before 9/11.

And when Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser told the Senate in 2007 that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”. And 9/11 was entirely foreseeable, but wasn’t stopped.   Indeed, no one in Washington even wants to hear how 9/11 happened, even though that is necessary to stop future terrorist attacks.  And the military has bombed a bunch of oil-rich countries when it could have instead taken out Bin Laden years ago.

As I noted in [an analogous context]:

The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

  • If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over
  • But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

See how that works?

And – given that U.S. soldiers admit that if they accidentally kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, they then “drop” automatic weapons near their body so they can pretend they were militants – it is unlikely that the government would ever admit that an American citizen it assassinated was an innocent civilian who has nothing at all to do with terrorism.

Read this if you have any doubt as to how much liberty Americans have lost.

Senator Paul told MSNBC:

The response by Holder could lead to a situation where “an Arab-American in Dearborn (Mich.) is walking down the street emailing with a friend in the Mideast and all of a sudden we drop a drone” on him. He said it was “really shocking” that President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would leave the door open to such a possibility.

True … but you don’t have to be Arab-American to get in trouble.

Obama Wins Right To Indefinitely Detain Americans Under National Defense Authorization Act

In Uncategorized on September 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm
US President Barack Obama. (AFP photo/Robyn Beck)

Oldspeak:”It is my view that this is why the government wants to reopen the NDAA — so it has a tool to round up would-be Islamic protesters before they can launch any protest, violent or otherwise. Right now there are no legal tools to arrest would-be protesters. The NDAA would give the government such power. Since the request to vacate the injunction only comes about on the day of the riots, and following the DHS bulletin, it seems to me that the two are connected. The government wants to reopen the NDAA injunction so that they can use it to block protests.” Yet another example of the “War On Terror” being used as pretext to deprive Americans of their rights to dissent, protest, and petition their government for grievances. All this after Obama expressing ‘serious reservations’ about signing this law, he’s now aggressively litigating to retain the constitutional rights violating provisions in it.   Newspeak par excellence is on display here : “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” –Barack Obama. Silence in corporate media on this assault on Constitutional Rights. Meanwhile, untold numbers of men, many of them without charges or cause are being detained indefinitely, tortured, rendered, interrogated, silenced in untold numbers of secret and no so secret locations around the globe. “Serious reservations” did not prevent this man from continuing the relentless expansion of a global U.S. led totalitarian police state.  Left unsaid is the profoudly slippery slop this ruling leads us down. How long will it be before “Islamic Protestors” is replaced with “Occupy Wall Street Protestors”? “Political Protestors”?  “Immigrant Protestors”? “Union Protestors”? “Education Protestors”? “Environmental Protestors”? “Veteran Protestors”? ” ‘What-you’re-protesting-here Protestors”?  ”Freedom Is Slavery”, “Ignorance Is Strength”

By RT:

A lone appeals judge bowed down to the Obama administration late Monday and reauthorized the White House’s ability to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge or due process.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that a temporary injunction on section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 must be made permanent, essentially barring the White House from ever enforcing a clause in the NDAA that can let them put any US citizen behind bars indefinitely over mere allegations of terrorist associations. On Monday, the US Justice Department asked for an emergency stay on that order, and hours later US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier agreed to intervene and place a hold on the injunction.

The stay will remain in effect until at least September 28, when a three-judge appeals court panel is expected to begin addressing the issue.

On December 31, 2011, US President Barack Obama signed the NDAA into law, even though he insisted on accompanying that authorization with a statement explaining his hesitance to essentially eliminate habeas corpus for the American people.

“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” President Obama wrote. “In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”

A lawsuit against the administration was filed shortly thereafter on behalf of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and others, and Judge Forrest agreed with them in district court last week after months of debate. With the stay issued on Monday night, however, that justice’s decision has been destroyed.

With only Judge Lohier’s single ruling on Monday, the federal government has been once again granted the go ahead to imprison any person “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” until a poorly defined deadline described as merely “the end of the hostilities.” The ruling comes despite Judge Forrest’s earlier decision that the NDAA fails to “pass constitutional muster” and that the legislation contained elements that had a “chilling impact on First Amendment rights”

Because alleged terrorists are so broadly defined as to include anyone with simple associations with enemy forces, some members of the press have feared that simply speaking with adversaries of the state can land them behind bars.

“First Amendment rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be legislated away,” Judge Forrest wrote last week. “This Court rejects the Government’s suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention.”

Bruce Afran, a co-counsel representing the plaintiffs in the case Hedges v Obama, said Monday that he suspects the White House has been relentless in this case because they are already employing the NDAA to imprison Americans, or plan to shortly.

“A Department of Homeland Security bulletin was issued Friday claiming that the riots [in the Middle East] are likely to come to the US and saying that DHS is looking for the Islamic leaders of these likely riots,” Afran told Hedges for a blogpost published this week. “It is my view that this is why the government wants to reopen the NDAA — so it has a tool to round up would-be Islamic protesters before they can launch any protest, violent or otherwise. Right now there are no legal tools to arrest would-be protesters. The NDAA would give the government such power. Since the request to vacate the injunction only comes about on the day of the riots, and following the DHS bulletin, it seems to me that the two are connected. The government wants to reopen the NDAA injunction so that they can use it to block protests.”

Within only hours of Afran’s statement being made public, demonstrators in New York City waged a day of protests in order to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Although it is not believed that the NDAA was used to justify any arrests, more than 180 political protesters were detained by the NYPD over the course of the day’s actions. One week earlier, the results of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union confirmed that the FBI has been monitoring Occupy protests in at least one instance, but the bureau would not give further details, citing that decision is “in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”

Josh Gerstein, a reporter with Politico, reported on the stay late Monday and acknowledged that both Forrest and Lohier were appointed to the court by President Obama.

U.S. Judge Stikes Down Indefinite Detention Provision In National Defense Authorization Act; Obama Administration Appeals Decision

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Oldspeak:The NDAA included a clause which afforded the military the power to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely, without charge or trial, if they are accused of certain ‘anti-state crimes’ or are accused of “substantially supporting” those accused of said crimes or forces associated therewith.    If that sounds tortuous and nebulous it’s because it is:” –David Segal. This is great victory for journalists, political activists, dissidents, and scholars. No longer will Americans and civilians around the world be allowed to be “disappeared” for speaking out against the woefully anti-democratic U.S. Government and its cohorts worldwide. “

 

 

 

Related Story:

Obama To Authorize Indefinite Detention Of U.S. Citizens For First Time Since McCarthy Era

By Alexander Reed Kelly @ Truthdig:

A temporary stop on the U.S. military’s power to imprison anyone deemed to have “substantially supported” terrorist groups was made permanent on Wednesday when U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that journalists could be snatched up under the law.

The ruling against a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act frustrates the government’s attempts to grant itself the ability to indefinitely detain anyone it could associate with terrorist activity, including domestic protesters.

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges had sued the Obama administration over the provision, along with journalists, scholars and political activists Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Naomi Wolf. Judge Forrest placed a temporary injunction on the provision in Section 1021 of the law in May.

“This court does not disagree with the principle that the president has primacy in foreign affairs,” Forrest said in Wednesday’s ruling. But government arguments in favor of the provision were not convincing, she said.

“The government has not stated that such conduct—which, by analogy, covers any writing, journalistic and associational activities that involve al Qaeda, the Taliban or whomever is deemed “associated forces”—does not fall within § 1021(b)(2).”

U.S. Judge’s Rule Protects Reporters, Activists In Their Middle East Work

By  Basil Katz @ Reuters:

A federal judge made permanent on Wednesday her order blocking enforcement of a U.S. law’s provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had ruled in May in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East and who said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Wednesday’s 112-page opinion turns the temporary injunction of May into a permanent injunction. The United States appealed on August 6.

The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.

The opinion stems from a January lawsuit filed by former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and others. The plaintiffs said they had no assurance that their writing and advocacy activities would not fall under the scope of the provision.

Government attorneys argued that the executive branch is entitled to latitude when it comes to cases of national security and that the law is neither too broad nor overly vague.

“This court does not disagree with the principle that the president has primacy in foreign affairs,” the judge said, but that she was not convinced by government arguments.

“The government has not stated that such conduct – which, by analogy, covers any writing, journalistic and associational activities that involve al Qaeda, the Taliban or whomever is deemed “associated forces” – does not fall within § 1021(b)(2).”

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, which represents the government in this case, declined to comment on the ruling.

The case is Hedges et al v. Obama et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-331.

Judge Strikes Down Indefinite Detention: Tell Obama To Stop Supporting This Wretched Law

By David Segal @ The Daily Kos:

We just won the lawsuit against Obama et al over the indefinite detention provisions of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. These provisions represented a blatant violation of due process and First Amendment rights, and plaintiffs argued that they were already having a chilling effect on journalists and activists.

The NDAA included a clause which afforded the military the power to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely, without charge or trial, if they are accused of certain anti-state crimes or are accused of “substantially supporting” those accused of said crimes or forces associated therewith.    If that sounds tortuous and nebulous it’s because it is: What the heck does “substantially support” or “associated force” even mean?

You can urge Obama not to appeal the ruling by clicking here.

In a sweeping 112-page ruling (which I’ve not yet read in full) Judge Katherine Forrest issued a permanent injunction against the use of such powers.  Here’s Reuters:

A federal judge made permanent on Wednesday her order blocking enforcement of a U.S. law’s provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had ruled in May in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East and who said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Plaintiffs include Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tangerine Bolen, and others; Demand Progress and RevolutionTruth members have raised more than $20,000 to support the lawsuit and used it to pressure lawmakers to revoke the provions in question.  We lost a relatively narrow vote in the House a few months ago, and the Senate will take up amendments to end indefinite detention in coming weeks.

We’re hoping the Senate will actually take this finding of unconstitutionality to heart and explicitly revoke the codification of the indefinite detention authority when the NDAA gets a vote in coming weeks.

This ruling required great fortitude on the part of Judge Forrest: She was appointed by Obama just last year.  After initially expressing concerns about the provisions in question — because they infringed on certain executive power, not because of all of the reasons above — Obama has consistently supported and defended them.  He signed them into law under cloak of darkness on New Year’s Eve and has aggressively defended them in court.

This’ll probably get appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court — but you can click here to urge Obama to stop protecting this awful law.

Wikileaks: Internal Report Indicates U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Monitoring Occupy Wall Street Protests

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘The internal DHS report emphasizes the need to “control protesters”, They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.Michael Hastings COINTELPRO lives on. New Department, same ole shit. Still more evidence that your government does not represent you. It represents those folks who ‘generally make all the money.’ The financial services, and myriad of other anational corporations who gamble with other people’s money, homes and livelihoods; they profit  handsomely as billions of others struggle with debt, poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and joblessness. The vast majority of Americans are de-politicized, minimally informed & apathetic, with has paved the way for replacement of often heralded democratic ideals with inverted totalitarianism. Democracy has been subverted by men with million-dollar smiles, and the unwitting masses clamoring for more divestment from their liberties. ”

Related Stories:

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

By Allison Kilkenny @ In These Times:

Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings last night posted a story on an internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year. The five-page report, part of five million newly leaked documents obtained by Wikileaks, sums up the history of the movement and assesses its “impact” on the financial services and government facilities.

In an interview on Citizen Radio, Hastings talked about the monitoring by DHS and also the leaked emails from Stratfor, a leading private intelligence firm Hastings describes as the “shadow CIA.”

The process of combing through the huge amount of leaked documents has only just begun, but Hastings considers the revelation that the government was keeping tabs on OWS to be the biggest news so far to come out of the latest dump.

The monitoring, or spying (depending on how generous one is feeling), process included DHS scouring OWS-related Twitter feeds.

“[DHS] was following all of the social networking activity that was going on among Occupy Wall Street,” says Hastings. “Now, I’m sure this is going to be spun tomorrow as this continues to grow that, oh, it’s just benign, DHS just used open source material to do this, and that’s true, but the question is: why is a large government bureaucracy who’s mandated to protect the homeland…monitoring very closely a peaceful political protest movement? They’re not monitoring the Democratic National Committee, they’re not monitoring Young Republican meetings. They’re monitoring Occupy Wall Street.”

The report emphasizes the need to “control protesters,” terminology Hastings finds troubling, along with DHS’s assertion that OWS will likely become more violent. Hastings calls that prediction “quite a leap,” as there is no evidence so far that the overwhelmingly peaceful movement is prone to become violent.

“[The report] names all the sort of groups [DHS is] worried about, one being Anonymous, this hacktivist group, but it also names the other people in Occupy Wall Street: labor unions, student groups,” Hastings says.

One might expect to read some hand-wringing over public safety concerns in a government document, and yet the DHS document appears to be more concerned with protecting the mechanisms of the financial sector than in ensuring the safety of citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.”

This same business-over-people bias is present in the second major leak involving the Stratfor emails. “When you go look at the back-and-forth, it’s all about, well, we have to protect lower Manhattan so the bankers can get to work on time.”

Hastings talks about two troubling tracks: In the DHS case, the U.S. government monitoring activist groups, and in the Stratfor case, large corporations paying a private intelligence firm to monitor other activist groups.

Dow Chemicals had Stratfor analyze the activities of Bhopal activists such as the Yes Men, who famously pranked the company by impersonating a Dow Chemical executive and publicly apologizing on the BBC for the Bhopal disaster that killed 8,000 people.

The list of Stratfor’s corporate clients is an impressive one, including Dow Chemicals and Coca-Cola. Clients are willing to pay the firm $40,000 for a subscription to Stratfor’s services (and additional huge sums of money for more services,) because the company bills itself as a private CIA, privy to high-level intelligence access.

“You have the DOW Chemicals situation, you have Coca-Cola hiring Stratfor to go after animal rights activists, to sort of keep tabs on them, and then also the question is: why would Stratfor have this Department of Homeland Security document, right? And the answer to that is Stratfor’s clients, or clearly Stratfor saw a business opportunity in keeping track, and figuring out how to handle protesters. In fact, in the email record…they’re talking about different tactics in lower Manhattan about, well, the streets are narrow down there, so if they push the protesters this way, or that way, that’s a better way to catch them. They’re drilling down into the best ways to kind of protect the financial services who are some of their clients.”

On Jan. 26, 2011, Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, fired off an excited email to his colleagues: “Text Not for Pub. We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

The question was: who did Burton mean by “we”?

“It’s like the Big Lebowski, right? The royal We,” says Hastings.

What Burton meant by “we” was the U.S. government.

“We know that the Department of Justice had been investigating Assange, and playing this game of oftentimes not explicitly saying what they were doing, but sort of threatening they would be doing this espionage investigation. We know that they’ve interviewed people in a grand jury, and then a few weeks ago with the Bradley Manning pre-trial that they were actually trying to make this espionage case against Assange,” says Hastings. “Burton claims that there in fact a secret U.S. indictment against Assange related, essentially, to espionage. That’s pretty big news.”

Hastings is braced for all of the typically condescending and dismissive remarks to come rolling in from the beltway in the wake of these latest leaks. In fact, the derision has already begun. One editor at The Atlantic called Wikileaks “a joke,” and dismissed the Stratfor emails out of hand.

Hastings expects others to say there’s no difference between a private intelligence firm and a newspaper or news bureau.

“I think that’s totally wrong. Journalists have sources and informants, but also our mission is to share that information with the public so the citizenry can make more informed decisions. Stratfor’s mission is to gather information so it can sell it to the highest bidder so corporations can essentially make more profit and get a competitive edge on their opponents,” he says.

That kind of knee-jerk dismissiveness strikes of bad journalism, according to Hastings. While no cheerleader for Wikileaks – during the interview, Hastings admitted there’s a lot of stuff one can criticize Wikileaks about, particularly the practice of releasing large amounts of data that hasn’t been reviewed very carefully – he still finds the overall work done by the group extremely newsworthy.

“What news organization has had a bigger impact than Wikileaks? Iraq war logs, Afghan war logs, the Cablegate. These are important stories. This is news. DHS was monitoring Occupy Wall Street. That’s a story, and it’s a significant story. We’re talking about Occupy Wall Street: one of the biggest grassroots, political movements that we’ve seen in a generation and the government’s response to that.”

One of the most worrying aspects to the Stratfor story is the privatizing of yet another typically goverment-only function. Like Blackwater, here is another shadowy private agency doing the work usually done by the U.S. government, a recipe, as we’ve learned time and time again, for unaccountability and disaster.

Also, Stratfor is ripe for the revolving door effect.

“It’s a chance for people who worked in government in these various intelligence agencies to, once they leave, to have lucrative positions where they’re able to — in the same way some politicians become lobbyists to ply off their old contacts — to have these great, well-paying positions where they can use their former intelligence contacts and sell their services in the corporate world,” says Hastings.

To naysayers claiming there’s nothing wrong with former government officials capitalizing on their particular skill sets, Hastings responds, “Once you start spying on activists, and peaceful protesters, then I would say that’s very troubling.”

The “Shock Doctrine” Comes To Your Neighborhood Classroom

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Oldspeak:“”Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.” – Tom Watkins, consultant, summarizes the corporate education reform movement’s current strategy. For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake. Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.” –David Sirota

By David Sirota @ Common Dreams:

The Shock Doctrine, as articulated by journalist Naomi Klein, describes the process by which corporate interests use catastrophes as instruments to maximize their profit. Sometimes the events they use are natural (earthquakes), sometimes they are human-created (the 9/11 attacks) and sometimes they are a bit of both (hurricanes made stronger by human-intensified global climate change). Regardless of the particular cataclysm, though, the Shock Doctrine suggests that in the aftermath of a calamity, there is always corporate method in the smoldering madness – a method based in Disaster Capitalism.

Though Klein’s book provides much evidence of the Shock Doctrine, the Disaster Capitalists rarely come out and acknowledge their strategy. That’s why Watkins’ outburst of candor, buried in this front-page New York Times article yesterday, is so important: It shows that the recession and its corresponding shock to school budgets is being  used by corporations to maximize revenues, all under the gauzy banner of “reform.”

Some background: The Times piece follows a recent Education Week report showing that as U.S. school systems are laying off teachers, letting schoolhouses crumble, and increasing class sizes, high-tech firms are hitting the public-subsidy jackpot thanks to corporate “reformers'” successful push for more “data-driven” standardized tests (more on that in a second) and more technology in the classrooms. Essentially, as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies — who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers — is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

The Times on Sunday added some key — and somehow, largely overlooked — context to this reportage: namely, that the spending shift isn’t producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of. “In a nutshell,” reports the Times, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

The paper adds that the successful “pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots” going back more than a decade, which raises the fundamental question: Why? Why would this push be so successful in changing education policy if there is little hard evidence that it is the right move to improve student achievement?

The answer goes back — as it so often does — to corporate power and the Shock Doctrine.

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend is no accidental convergence of economic disaster and high-minded  policy. On the contrary, it is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results. As the Times  sums it up, the recession’s “resource squeeze presents an opportunity” for corporate interests.

Or as Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: “Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform.”

For sheer weapons-grade assholishness, Watkins’ publicly wishing for a crushing recession to continue ranks up there with such gems as “bring them on” and “let them eat cake.”

However, the real news here is that a Disaster Capitalist has spoken the unspoken and clearly articulated the Shock Doctrine in all its hideous glory. In this case, he has told us what the “reform” movement to demonize teachers, undermine public education, and generate private profits from public schools is really all about: It is about using the shock of a fiscal crisis to enact a radical, unproven but highly profitable agenda that corporate forces fully know they cannot pass under non-emergency circumstances, when objective scrutiny would be much more intense. Indeed, corporate “reformers”are so reliant on the Shock Doctrine to glaze over uncomfortable questions about their agenda, that they are now praying that the shock of recession continues.

The Times article does a good job of raising questions, forcing the corporate “reform” movement to resort to a revealing kind of hypocrisy. Check out the response from the Obama administration — which has been one of the leaders of the corporate “reform” movement — when confronted with data showing that its push for technology isn’t raising student achievement:

Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology in the United States Department of Education, said standardized test scores were an inadequate measure of the value of technology in schools. Ms. Cator, a former executive at Apple Computer, said that better measurement tools were needed but, in the meantime, schools knew what students needed.

“In places where we’ve had a large implementing of technology and scores are flat, I see that as great,” she said. “Test scores are the same, but look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.” (emphasis added)

Cator, of course, is making the argument that supporters of traditional public education have been making against corporate “reformers” for years — namely, that standardized tests cannot be the primary tool to measure overall educational achievement, because they do not measure other equally important skills. And the fact that she is selectively making it in defense of her former technology industry tells us a lot about how public policy is really made in America.

Recall that this statement against standardized testing comes from the same Obama administration that has been pushing for more standardized testing — the same Obama administration that wants to use standardized testing as a key metric for withholding federal aid from “failing” schools and for firing teachers. That’s right, somehow, according to the Obama administration, standardized tests are the perfect tool to judge and punish struggling schools and the teachers who work with low-income kids, but they can’t be used to similarly judge technology products that are making Obama’s high-tech donors lots of cash.

In this oxymoron, we see who the corporate “reformers” in government really believe they work for, and whom they shape public policy on behalf of. It’s not the average parent or student or voter. It’s the Disaster Capitalists, who now have their sights set on your local schoolhouse.

Note: Steven Brill, the author of the new book “Class Warfare,” and Dana Goldstein, the Nation magazine’s education reporter, will be debating these and other education issues on my KKZN-AM760 radio show at 9 a.m. ET on Sept. 7. Stream it live or podcast it at sirota.am760.net.

© 2011 David Sirota