Tagged: Barack Obama

Who is missing from this picture?


Sec of Health, Sylvia Burwell; President Obama; CDC Director, Dr. Thomas FriedenREUTERS/Larry Downing

Who is missing? There ain’t any Surgeon General. That’s the person who would coordinate the federal contribution to confronting the Ebola threat to public health. Congressional Republicans have stopped the appointment of any one to that office for over a year.

That’s been the main in-house tactic of the Party of NO ever since the people of the United States elected a non-white president. And re-elected a non-white president. The normal procedures of staffing our federal courts with judges, appointing ambassadors, you name it – have been halted because a crap-cluster of old white Republicans decided they can’t abide a government headed by someone who doesn’t fit the good old boy network.

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Congress authorized Vietnam War under bullshit pretense – 50 years ago, today


President Johnson signs “Gulf of Tonkin” resolutionCecil Stoughton/White House Photograph Office

After just nine hours of deliberation, both houses of Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution today in 1964. The bill authorizing the United States to officially go to war with Vietnam was signed by President Lyndon Johnson three days later. Of course, the United States had been increasingly involved in Vietnam at least since 1955, when then-President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory group to help train the South Vietnamese Army…

The supposed August 4th attack on the USS Maddox was used to legitimize the growing U.S. presence in Vietnam and to give the President authority to use the military in the effort to combat Communist North Vietnam. Even Johnson questioned the legitimacy of the Gulf of Tonkin. A year after the incident, Johnson said to then Press Secretary Bill Moyers, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

A good, traditional liberal Democrat administration following the unified party line of American foreign policy. Hasn’t changed a jot since.

Pacific island nation sues nuclear-weapons nations


Click to enlarge this view of the US blowing a hole in the Marshall Islands


The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.

The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II filed suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also filed a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade…

The countries targeted also include Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The last four are not parties to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but the lawsuits argue they are bound by its provisions under “customary international law.” The nonproliferation treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, requires negotiations among countries in good faith on disarmament.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on the lawsuit…

The Marshall Islands were the site of 67 nuclear tests by the United States over a 12-year period, with lasting health and environmental impacts.

“Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities,” the country’s foreign minister, Tony de Brum, said in a statement announcing the lawsuits.

The country is seeking action, not compensation. It wants the courts to require that the nine nuclear-armed states meet their obligations…

The Marshall Islands is asking the countries to accept the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in this case and explain their positions on the issue.

The court has seen cases on nuclear weapons before. In the 1970s, Australia and New Zealand took France to the court in an effort to stop its atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific.

I doubt if our so-called Liberal president will find room in his heart to defend the rights and needs of these island folk. After all, they’re not sitting on uninhabited rocks in the South China Sea important to Japan’s quest for oil.

Why DOJ prosecutors have done nothing about subprime crime


My broker’s phone number is in the top righthand drawer of the desk

One of the great “mysteries” of the post-financial-crisis era is why there has been almost no prosecution of obvious criminality, particularly in the mortgage business. We have been told it is more complex than it appears; that the securitization process has made determining exactly who was harmed complicated; that this complexity makes convincing a jury a crapshoot.

All of these arguments fail to withstand even cursory scrutiny when it comes to foreclosure fraud. The robo-signing, document fabrication and mass perjury should have been fish in a barrel for even a newbie prosecutor. Why did the government fail to go after so many perpetrators of mass fraud?

A Justice Department inspector general’s report released this week raises that exact question. It found that: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements” and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation “ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest ranked criminal threat in its lowest crime category…”

This all took place during an era of limited legal enforcement for white-collar crimes. Prosecutions for financial felonies began falling under the George W. Bush administration, and kept right on doing so during the Barack Obama administration. At least we can’t blame this governmental incompetency on partisanship…

So why were there so few prosecutions? I have three theories:

1) Endowment Effect & Sunk Cost Fallacies: The TARP, ZIRP and FASB rule changes were not especially popular.

2) Economic Threat:…“The greatest triumph of the banking industry wasn’t ATMs or even depositing a check via the camera of your mobile phone. It was convincing Treasury and Justice Department officials that prosecuting bankers for their crimes would destabilize the global economy.”

3) The wrong players in key roles: When Obama began his administration, he appointed experienced people to key economic roles. Unfortunately, their resumes included helping to create the financial crisis.

RTFA for all the gory details. Barry Ritholtz has the wonderful habit of trying to tell the truth as he sees it, as he finds it. That doesn’t inhibit his willingness to identify corruption no matter how widespread, inclusive of “nice” people.

Henry Kissinger — on the the Ukraine crisis

Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.

Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.

Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States.

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709 , were fought on Ukrainian soil. The Black Sea Fleet — Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean — is based by long-term lease in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia.

The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities.

The Ukrainians are the decisive element. They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian , became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West — especially Russia and Europe — into a cooperative international system…

A wise U.S. policy toward Ukraine would seek a way for the two parts of the country to cooperate with each other. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction…Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle. Each has made the situation worse. Russia would not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself at a time when many of its borders are already precarious. For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one

Leaders of all sides should return to examining outcomes, not compete in posturing. The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction. If some solution based on these or comparable elements is not achieved, the drift toward confrontation will accelerate. The time for that will come soon enough.

Of course, Kissinger may as well be describing Congress under the misleadership of what passes for a Republican Party, today. He speaks from memories of days when Republicans and Democrats had principled, educated, knowledgeable leaders. Days long gone.

Kissinger is not a diplomat I have a whole boatload of respect for. He rarely challenged the Cold War status quo in his years of service. What positive results attended his efforts resulted from a simple understanding that politics should trump war, trade brings more long-lasting change than imperial bullying.

Frankly, I doubt if anyone in the Confederate Club in Congress will even read his suggested principles. However, they are worth reading at least as a base for your understanding.

US banks can accept legal marijuana money – if you believe?

The Obama administration has sought to lessen the fear of prosecution for banks doing business with licensed marijuana companies, further encouraging US states such as Colorado and Washington that are experimenting with legalising the drug.

The Justice and Treasury departments outlined the policy in writing to federal prosecutors and financial institutions nationwide…

The guidance stopped short of promising immunity for banks, but made clear that criminal prosecution for money laundering and other crimes was unlikely if they met a series of conditions…

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges, and they therefore refuse to open accounts for marijuana-related businesses, the AP news agency reported.

The guidance was intended to increase the availability of banking services, such as savings and checking accounts, to marijuana shops that typically deal in cash. Forced to deal in cash because of federal policy…

US Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that the administration was planning ways to accommodate marijuana businesses so they would not always be dealing in cash.

“There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me just from a law enforcement perspective,” Holder said on January 23…

The American Bankers Association expressed scepticism that the guidance would make much difference…Marijuana sales still violate federal law, so banks are still at risk, said Rob Rowe, a lawyer with the trade group.

“Compliance by a bank will still require extensive resources to monitor any of these businesses, and it’s unlikely the benefits would exceed the costs,”…

I asked my favorite banker about this – and received the same answer given by Rowe. As long as the Feds base their practices on existing law, there’s no one willing to be the test case after being arrested for violating federal banking regulations. Even if the DOJ says go ahead – we won’t bust you.

Why should a bank trust pronouncements from a political body unwilling or unable to change their own regulations?

US started bugging Angela Merkel’s phone in 2002

The US has been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone since 2002, according to a report in Der Spiegel magazine…The German publication claims to have seen secret documents from the National Security Agency which show Mrs Merkel’s number on a list dating from 2002 – before she became chancellor.

Her number was still on a surveillance list in 2013…

The nature of the monitoring of Mrs Merkel’s mobile phone is not clear from the files, Der Spiegel says.

For example, it is possible that the chancellor’s conversations were recorded, or that her contacts were simply assessed.

Germany is sending its top intelligence chiefs to Washington in the coming week to “push forward” an investigation into the spying allegations, which have caused outrage in Germany…

A close ally of Mrs Merkel told the BBC that she was personally very hurt by the idea of being spied on by American friends.

The chancellor is said to be shocked that Washington may have engaged in the sort of spying that she had to deal with while growing up in Communist East Germany…

A unit called Special Collection Services, based in the US embassy in Pariser Platz in Berlin, was responsible for monitoring communications in the German capital’s government quarter…

Similar units were based in around 80 locations worldwide, according to the documents seen by Der Spiegel, 19 of them in European cities.

With friends like this, Angela Merkel doesn’t really need enemies, now, does she?

Just for shits and giggles – think about the public relations types, the soothers, smoothers and spin doctors who front for the array of professional politicians infesting what could be a simple federal bureaucracy functioning on behalf of the people of this nation. They’re trying to come up with new excuses every week for the previous week’s lies – because all the crud Ed Snowden walked away with gets another release from one or another of the few newspapers with the courage to print the truth, every week.

Consider that if George W was bugging Merkel’s phone, he certainly agreed to do the same to Gerhard Schröder, then chancellor, and Joschka Fischer, leader of the Green Party. Although it’s always fun to note that American conservatives never seem to trust anyone to be conservative enough – especially them furriners.

And another lie is revealed. And another.

US invasion of Afghanistan began 12 years ago – today!

Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, began 12 years ago Monday…There are still 54,000 American troops in Afghanistan and the number of coalition bases has gone from a high of 800 to about 100, Stars and Stripes reported…

Discussion and media interest about Afghanistan have faded since President Obama ordered a troop surge three years ago, but a White House spokesman declined to discuss whether Obama is avoiding public discussion, Stars and Stripes said.

A. Trevor Thrall, a professor at George Mason University, said this isn’t the first time a president has tried to avoid news out of Afghanistan, the report said.

George W. Bush stopped talking about Afghanistan almost immediately after he shifted focus to Iraq,” Thrall said. “Afghanistan was truly a forgotten war [when] Obama took over and it became it again after the surge was over. The result is the public really has no idea what’s going on there.”

Troops still in Afghanistan told Stars and Stripes they have mixed feelings about the lack of attention.

“It’s kind of sad, because I think some people are a little more occupied with the latest TV show,” said Lt. Uriel Macias, a Navy reservist assigned to a stability operations team in Kabul. “But what is often forgotten is that we are still losing people all the time.”

Of course, we could have left a long time ago – just as we could have stayed out of Iraq altogether. But, that not only would have required reason and objectivity among our elected officials in the White House and Congress – it would have required courage in the face of right-wing chickenhawks, war-lovers and profiteers.

Not especially likely in the Land of Liberty.