Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Uh, that’s California below
The US uses drones for surveillance in some limited law-enforcement situations, the head of FBI has said, prompting additional debate about the Obama administration’s use of domestic surveillance.
Robert Mueller’s acknowledgement came in response to questions on Wednesday from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who said they wanted to know more about the federal government’s increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on US soil?” Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa asked during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“Yes,” Mueller said, adding that the use was in “a very, very minimal way and very seldom”.
Mueller did not go into detail, but the FBI later released a statement that said unmanned aircraft were used only to watch stationary subjects and to avoid serious risks to law-enforcement agents…
The Federal Aviation Administration approves each use, the statement said.
Golly, what a surprise. Did they ever consider refusing?
At the hearing, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said she was concerned about the privacy implications of drone surveillance.
“The greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone, and the very few regulations that are on it today,” she said…
This is the same hack who said, “I think it’s an act of treason” – speaking of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on NSA snooping.
The Justice Department had disclosed that two domestic law-enforcement agencies use unmanned aircraft systems, according to a department statement sent to the Judiciary Committee and released on Wednesday by Grassley’s office.
The two are the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives…
Mueller, who is due to retire when his term expires in September, agreed that there should be public discourse over the future of the unmanned vehicles, saying “it’s worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road”.
Requiring warrants fits into the same category as FAA approval. Rubber stamps don’t ask questions or consider constitutionality.
The fact remains that the same sort of Big Brother methods denied as an unthinkable violation of sacred trust have been happening all along. Flying spy missions over these United States ain’t the same as reinforcing the Border Patrol or US Customs. Though that will be a significant portion of the rationale. No doubt.
“When I finish this rewrite, it will hardly be worth taking to the bathroom”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, released more than 200 pages of interview transcripts Tuesday afternoon after the committee’s Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), refused to do so…
Cummings released transcripts with an IRS screening group manager described as a “conservative Republican,” who said that the targeting of the Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status started with low-level workers in Cincinnati. The witness also said that there was no communication on the targeting with any senior IRS officials or with anyone in Washington or the Obama administration.
Democrats have posted the key portion of the transcript here, in which the manager says he initially was made aware of a case involving a Tea Party group when an agent “asked for guidance.” He agreed with the agent that there “wasn’t enough information” to determine whether the group should have a tax-exempt status, and said he elevated the issue to his “area manager…”
“I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development,” the manager said.
He also told the Oversight Committee that he believed no one from the White House was involved in the IRS’ screening of Tea Party groups.
Cummings called on Issa to release the entire transcripts, which Issa said would harm the investigation. Cummings asked him for specific reasons, and demanded he respond by Monday. When Issa didn’t respond, Cummings released the entirety of the transcripts.
Issa’s office also did not respond to requests from multiple media outlets — including this one — that asked whether he would eventually release full transcripts.
Like any rightwing punk, Issa is pissed that the actual transcript of the hearing is available for ordinary citizens to read and review. The Republican habit of clipping snippets of information to give an opposite view of reality is notorious; but, this example of a hypocrite and liar like Issa trying to get away with doing the same – with information that’s part of the congressional record – is despicable.
Of course he’s pissed off. Like most populist four-flushers he can’t stand to have reality interfere with ideology. The humorous bit is that just about the only time the IRS was ever proven to be complicit in political attacks was at the hands of a Republican president. A scumbag named Nixon.
Michelle Bachmann is Big Brother in drag
The name of Tuesday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Intelligence sounded more like the subtitle to a Stanley Kubrick film: “How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids Our Adversaries.”
Chairman Mike Rogers’ (R-MI) clear goal was to give the members of the intelligence committee a chance to trumpet the value of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program and chastise Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor who fled to Hong Kong with the intent of leaking secret documents.
“In recent years, these programs…have protected the U.S and our allies from terrorist threats…blah, blah, blah…
Snowden has asserted that as a low-level analyst he had unfettered access to Americans’ private communication through connections with top technology companies established by the so-called PRISM program.
“If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702, and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it,” Snowden wrote. “All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time – and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants.”
He’s referring to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which according to the government “targeted acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning foreign targets located outside the United States under court oversight.” Snowden argues that where such actual oversight exists, it can be easily gamed.
Alexander flatly denied that such access exists…
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) took on Snowden directly, echoing Dick Cheney by calling him a “traitor…”
Chairman Rogers echoed Bachmann. “It is at times like these where our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside,” he said.
The only thing they left out – today – was the Red Menace from China. And homosexuals. Don’t forget homosexuals.
Rightwing politicians in America aren’t especially inventive or up-to-date. Their fears, the things that go boomp in the night and scare the Bejeebus out of them haven’t changed in centuries. So, just as Joe McCarthy attacked everyone from the State Department to President Eisenhower as either agents or dupes of a foreign power, the fallback position has always been that the homosexuals in positions of power are complicit with defiling the purity of our bodily fluids – and on and on.
Ted Cruz and the rest of the proto-fascist crowd, the Bachmans, the renamed phony Christian Coalition, have already started down that alley. Expect to hear it from the rest of the Republican Party as we approach the 2014 elections.
There are only so many companies left that can build a decent mobile network. Banning Huawei from the U.S. seriously skews the competitive balance in an already off-kilter industry.
Huawei has taken quite a political beating lately. Not only are U.S. lawmakers calling for sanctions against the Asian infrastructure maker due to its ties to the Chinese government, but Sprint and Softbank just brokered a deal with the federal government that could ban Huawei’s gear from their current and future U.S. networks.
Recently a frustrated Huawei EVP and co-CEO Eric Xu took a rather flip position on the matter, saying his company was no longer interested in the U.S. market and had essentially stopped paying attention to the controversy surrounding it here. Xu was obviously posturing. No global equipment maker would just simply ignore the world’s largest telecommunications market.
But there is a bit of truth to his words. Huawei has done quite well for itself without landing a single major U.S. infrastructure deal. Domestic operators may have resisted Huawei’s allure, but carriers in Canada, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa certainly haven’t. By some measurements, Huawei has already surpassed Ericsson as the largest telecom vendor in the world.
…If Huawei gets banned, then one of the key industry forces keeping equipment prices low suddenly disappears. That’s not a situation U.S. mobile industry wants to see.
There has been a lot of consolidation in the telecom equipment market in the last several years. In many ways, Huawei was directly responsible for that consolidation, driving smaller players out of the market or into mergers through its aggressive pricing. A decade ago there were about a dozen companies that could sell you a cellular base station. Today there are really only three or four dominant mobile players, and Huawei is one of them.
…The dwindling competitive landscape is particularly evident in the U.S. where historical reliance on CDMA technologies has led two companies to dominate: Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. No U.S. operator relies solely on a single network maker, so AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint all use both vendors as primary suppliers.
But Alcatel-Lucent is suffering, and it might not be long before Alcatel-Lucent finds itself broken up and sold for parts. If that happens, there will be a big vacuum, and there aren’t that many companies capable of filling it. There’s Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei, and that’s pretty much it. Smaller network players like Samsung have been asserting themselves of late, but they’re still small fish in an ever-shrinking pond…
All of the major U.S. operators have already named their LTE suppliers, so there won’t be much opportunity to disrupt the market for years to come. And when that time does come it will take a lot to pry those carriers away from their current suppliers. But the presence of Huawei would at least gives those operators leverage.
Look at this way: AT&T loves Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. It probably will never leave them. But if I’m AT&T, I want Huawei around to keep those two vendors honest. And if Alcatel-Lucent suddenly goes belly up, I’d rather have more than one choice to replace them than NSN.
From the coverage I’ve seen on biz TV shows, from what I’ve read here from Fritchard and Kevin Tofel, all I see is the same corrupt congressional politicians who babble about competitiveness in American capitalism – then turn their back on that standard to protect the corporate thugs who pick up the tab for their political careers.
“I’m the ideal Republican candidate for President”
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife used taxpayer money to pay for sunscreen and dog vitamins, the Washington Post reported on Monday, a disclosure that comes as the Republican leader is said to be under scrutiny by the FBI.
The newspaper, citing spending records it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also said the McDonnells used state employees to run personal errands for their adult children and billed the state for deodorant, shoe repairs and a digestive system “detox cleanse.”
The Washington Post has previously reported that McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016, was under investigation by the FBI and a grand jury over a $15,000 catering bill from his daughter’s wedding in 2011 that was paid for by a campaign donor…
The governor has acknowledged that he stayed at the Roanoke, Virginia, home of the campaign donor, Jonnie Williams, and drove Williams’ Ferrari sports car back to Richmond.
Williams is the chief executive of Star Scientific Inc, a nutritional supplements maker in the Richmond area.
According to the Washington Post, the FBI is looking into whether the governor’s office helped advance the business interests of Williams in exchange for the gifts…
You have to love Republican family values – as practiced. The same hypocrites who prate all through election cycles about honesty and old-fashioned virtue – once they get into office the regal greed they foreswear takes priority in every aspect of their lives.
Beppe Grillo, the fiery comic whose populist 5-Star Movement stunned Italy by winning a quarter of the votes in February’s election, is facing his biggest test since the vote with rebellion brewing among his novice lawmakers.
Publicly blamed by one of his own senators for the party’s poor showing in local elections earlier this week, in which it won only two towns out of more than 500, Grillo faces the threat of a mutiny that could blow the party apart.
As many as 30 parliamentarians are said to be ready to quit the party for various reasons…Some have balked at being asked to hand back daily parliamentary allowances as part of the movement’s rejection of political privilege.
Others chafe at Grillo’s deep intolerance of dissent in a grassroots movement where everyone is supposed to have a say…
“What has emerged is his limits as a leader. Any politician knows that managing things in such an absolutist, authoritarian manner is impossible,” said Leonardo Morlino, a professor of political science at LUISS university in Rome.
Grillo’s success was built in equal measure on his own charisma and skill in articulating boiling frustration at a discredited elite, and on widespread public hopes for a new way of doing politics built on youthful energy and the power of the Internet…
His popular blog attracts thousands of comments from young people sick of being shut out of decisions and turned off by a television system divided between Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire and state broadcasting carved up between the main political parties.
Play-school imitations of dissent always appeal to the disaffected. And achieve little if anything. Now that his tantrums have taken the “movement” past a couple of expressions of independence – his anarchistic bullying is becoming best known as Sound and Fury, signifying nothing. If there’s nothing to be achieved – there’s no reason to follow.
Whatever the details might be, it seems clear that dozens of technology companies — and perhaps even more — have co-operated with the NSA on its surveillance program. And they could pay a high price for doing so.
As the fallout continues to rain down from recent reports about the NSA snooping on millions of phone calls and terabytes of web traffic, the spin campaign from both the government and the technology companies allegedly involved in the program has reached a fever pitch. First there were strenuous denials from the likes of Google, Yahoo and Facebook, followed by broad hints that they only co-operated because they were trying to make things easier on their users — and then leaked reports that some were essentially forced at gunpoint to do the NSA’s bidding.
Whatever the case may be, agreeing to turn over data to the government might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the potential downside risks of that particular slippery slope are fairly overwhelming.
The popular response to the NSA revelations may lie somewhere between mild disinterest and outright apathy, according to surveys like the one done by the Pew Center — in part because we seem to have gotten used to the idea that tech companies are monitoring our every move. But being seen as co-operating with the spy agency is still a fairly huge risk for cloud-based services. Not only that, but co-operating in even a small way makes those companies look like easy targets for further government pressure…
At this point, the actual truth of what is involved in the NSA’s so-called PRISM program remains a rapidly shifting target. The documents first published by the Guardian and the Washington Post a week ago seemed pretty cut and dried in their description of a system that allowed the spy agency “direct access” to the servers of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and about half a dozen other companies — something the Post originally said was provided voluntarily and gave the NSA broad access to information about user behavior.
Almost immediately, however, the details started to blur: not only did those companies deny providing “direct access” to their servers, but some sources said the data was only provided under duress, because of secret court orders related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act…
Denials and duress don’t address the essential question of how much cooperation ended up happening?
Iran was on the brink of an extraordinary political transformation on Saturday night after the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani sensationally secured enough votes to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani’s victory delighted reformers who have been desperate for a return to the forefront of politics after eight acrimonious years under Ahmadinejad.
It will also lift the spirit of a nation suffering from its worst financial crisis for at least two decades as a result of the sanctions imposed by western powers in the dispute over its nuclear programme.
Rouhani, who favours a policy of political openness, as well as re-establishing relations with the west, is likely to soothe international tension. He has been described by western officials as an “experienced diplomat and politician” and “fair to deal with”.
Iran’s interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, announced on state television on Saturday night that 72% of 50 million eligible Iranians had voted, and Rohani had won just over the 50% of the vote required to avoid a runoff.
Rouhani, a PhD graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University and a former nuclear negotiator, has pledged to find a way out of the current stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme, which is the cause of the sanctions crushing the economy.
Minutes after he was announced as the winner, thousands of jubilant campaigners and people across Iran poured into streets to celebrate. “Ahmadi Bye Bye”, chanted a large group in central Tehran, according to witnesses, in a reference to Ahmadinejad. Car horns were honking in larger streets in Tehran and Rouhani supporters chanted.
The Iranian currency, the rial, recovered in value against the dollar by at least 6% on Saturday. Later on Saturday night, Rouhani issued a statement on television, saying “a new season of solidarity” had begun following a result that brought “rationality and moderation” as well as “peace, stability and hope”…
The turnout for Friday’s vote was so high that polling stations stayed open for five hours longer than planned.
Speaking after casting his vote in Tehran, Khamenei had urged a mass turnout to rebut suggestions by American officials that the election enjoyed little legitimacy.
“I recently heard that someone at the US national security council said, ‘We do not accept this election in Iran’,” he said. “We don’t give a damn.”
All of the papier-mâché lovers of democracy from the UK to the US, from Cameron to Obama, have lined up to give advice. The best thing they could do – for a change – is keep their sticky fingers out of the pot of oil and natural gas that belongs to Iran and shut up for a change.
All prior blather about negotiating in good faith with Iran never came to pass. Just election-speak. Fact remains that even under the strictures of the Iranian theocracy, the turnout for the election was greater than anything Uncle Sugar has turned out in decades. A multi-party, multi-choice election unlike anything allowed in the United States.
Our new best buddies
The United States made plans to send arms to Syrian rebels several weeks ago, Obama administration sources told The Washington Post.
This week’s announcement shipments of rifles and ammunition would be funneled to the beleaguered rebels was based on new evidence the Syrian regime had gassed civilians; however, the Post said Saturday President Obama had ordered officials to start planning the supply operation in late April.
The internal debate boiled down to State Department diplomats who feared Syria — and the entire Middle East — was descending into chaos, and military officers and Obama political aides who were concerned about the complexity of the resupply mission and the ramifications of the U.S. involvement in another regional conflict.
Officials told the Post the CIA and other agencies had used the time well. Covert bases were established in Jordan and Turkey to handle the weapons transfers, and contacts were made with rebel leaders inside Syria…
The Post said the planned peace talks in Geneva this month were derailed by Assad’s recent successes on the battlefield. Sources said the negotiations would likely not begin before fall.
In the meantime, the United States will be trying to work out a deal with Russia that will somehow lead the way to a negotiated settlement between Assad and the rebels. Sources told the Post the Obama administration preferred a deal that would preserve Syria’s infrastructure and institutions rather than an outright overthrow of the government, which would create more chaos on the ground.
And everyone involved – of course – is prepared to listen to the wisdom in the White House, State Department and Congress after all the success we’ve had in bringing peace to the region over the past 65 years, eh?
Picking the time to announce Obama’s satisfaction with military analysis from spy agencies in England, France and Foggy Bottom was easy enough. The simple need to try to get Americans talking about anything other than the forgotten piece of paper we call the Bill of Rights works just fine inside the Beltway.