Tagged: Obama

Obama tightens regulations on fracking chemicals disclosure – sort of

The Obama administration said Friday it is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

A rule to take effect in June also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking, a drilling method that has prompted an ongoing boom in natural gas production.

The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The industry fears the regulation could hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that it could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

What crap writing/editing. It’s the absence of regulations that allows unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

The final rule hews closely to a draft that has lingered since the Obama administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The website, FracFocus.org, was formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011 and allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country.

Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.

While the new rule only applies to federal land – which makes up just one-tenth of natural gas drilling in the United States – the Obama administration is hoping the rule will serve as a model and set a new standard for hydraulic fracturing that states and other regulators will follow.

Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said…“Ultimately, this is an issue that is going to be decided in state capitals and localities as well as with the industry,” he said…

Thomas Pyle, president of the pro-industry Institute for Energy Research, said blah, blah, blah.

The League of Conservation Voters called the bill an important step forward to regulate fracking.

Even so, the group was disappointed with the continued reliance on FracFocus, which a spokeswoman described as an industry-run website.

Participation in FracFocus is voluntarily. So, the creeps using deleterious chemicals simply don’t participate.

FracFocus, right now, displays info on fewer than 95,000 oil and gas wells. The industry admits to approximately 441,000 fracked gas wells alone.

After three years of introspection, investigation and time-wasting the White House proposes tightening of regulations based on info from a single voluntary website. No requirements for compliance. And the regulations only apply to federal lands.

Window dressing.

The rest is left in the hands of state legislatures who will use their God-given states rights – and motivational handouts from oil and gas lobbyists – to do absolutely nothing.

France, Germany and Italy add to UK joining AIIB – refusing Obama’s demands

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“If they don’t pay attention, we break both legs next time”

A senior US diplomat said it was up to individual countries to decide on joining a new China-led lending body, as media reports said France, Germany and Italy have agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Accommodation seems to be all that’s left to Obama since threats didn’t work.

A growing number of close allies were ignoring Washington’s pressure to stay out of the institution, the Financial Times reported, in a setback for US foreign policy.

In China the state-owned Xinhua news agency said South Korea, Switzerland and Luxembourg were also considering joining.

The Financial Times, quoting European officials, said the decision by the four countries to become members of the AIIB was a blow for Washington…

The bank is also seen as contributing to the spread of China’s “soft power” in the region, possibly at the expense of the United States.

The AIIB was launched by Beijing in 2014 to spur investment in Asia in transportation, energy, telecommunications and other infrastructure. It is touted as a potential rival to the western-dominated World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

China said earlier in 2015 that a total of 26 countries had been included as founder members, mostly from Asia and the Middle East. It plans to finalise the articles of agreement by the end of the year…

Obama, the State Department, Congressional clown show members who fancy their foreign policy cred – all joined in to try to prevent this new international funding source from acceptance by our allies. At least those who acquired the title by generally obeying White House orders.

Didn’t work. Didn’t happen.

The bank will be welcome throughout the developing world, throughout the 3rd World. Like Chinese foreign policy it doesn’t come with social strings. The intent is to aid in the building of infrastructure – which means we probably should apply from poor states like New Mexico as a matter of need. We ain’t getting anything from Congress. That’s for sure.

The rap on both the World Bank and the IMF is that they have to answer to conservative voices in the United States and the European Union. Conservative voices not so focussed on the funds as social welfare – which they consider to be at least a mortal sin. Money is doled out through an eyedropper. Proof of reduction in socially productive programs required on a daily basis.

The chuckle is – for a lot of reason including holding a place in line for future exchanges dealing RMB, the Chinese currency, EU nations often the most conservative when criticizing other nation’s social practices – still want to be seen as caring and participating and maybe even profiting from a more open and less-political form of moneylending.

The United States OTOH is “above all that”. So to speak.

Brits will join China-backed Asian Infrastructure Bank

The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.

In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.

Obama is so pissed off you can see his face turn red from here.

The $50 billion bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region…

George Osborne – who has discussed the decision to become a founder member of the investment bank with his US counterpart, Jack Lew – has been the driving force behind developing closer economic ties between Britain and China. The chancellor has led the way in encouraging Chinese investment in the next generation of civil nuclear power plants in the UK and he ensured that the City of London would become the base for the first clearing house for the yuan outside Asia.

The US administration made clear in no uncertain terms its displeasure about Osborne’s decision to join the AIIB. A US official told the Financial Times: “We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power…”

“…I think [the US] should have been more willing to engage in discussion with China and others about the institution. There’s a big infrastructure gap in Asia, existing institutions are not filling it and China has the wherewithal to contribute on the right terms,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some surmised that the US was responsible when Australia backed away from signing up to the bank at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last autumn, after widespread speculation a deal was on the cards.

“The US did reach out to Australia, Koreans and others to consult about questions and concerns, and that’s been interpreted as leaning on allies not to join the bank,” said Goodman.

Uncle Sugar expected obedience and got it.

If you’ve spent time studying the interrelationship between the World Bank, the IMF, any number of subsidiary forms dedicated to “keeping folks in their place” – you know this is a real slap in the face to the policied of Imperial America. It’s directly counter to Obama’s version of the stock American policy of negotiating by shoving large chunks of military in your face, threatening to cut you off from access to foreign exchange and liquidity.

China now invests more abroad than foreign money invests inside China. For all the blather – well, lies – about the United States seeking commercial engagement with state or private investors from China, the White House blocks as many deals for phony reasons as do numbnut Congressional Republicans. Companies and jobs grown in the US through Chinese investment are policy only for election-speak. China ends up with three-quarters of their overseas investment going into Europe because they simply aren’t jerked around the way they are when trying to invest in the United States.

The United States talks about carrots and sticks but only relies on varying sizes of sticks. China has lots of carrots.

Obama’s channeling Ronald Reagan — says Venezuela national security threat

The White House took a new step toward the theater of the absurd by “declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela,” as President Barack Obama put it in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

It remains to be seen whether anyone in the White House press corps will have the courage to ask what in the world the nation’s chief executive could mean by that. Is Venezuela financing a coming terrorist attack on U.S. territory? Planning an invasion? Building a nuclear weapon?

Who do they think they are kidding? Some may say that the language is just there because it is necessary under U.S. law in order to impose the latest round of sanctions on Venezuela. That is not much of a defense, telling the whole world the rule of law in the United States is something the president can use lies to get around whenever he finds it inconvenient.

That was the approach of President Ronald Reagan in 1985 when he made a similar declaration in order to impose sanctions — including an economic embargo — on Nicaragua. Like the White House today, he was trying to topple an elected government that Washington didn’t like. He was able to use paramilitary and terrorist violence as well as an embargo in a successful effort to destroy the Nicaraguan economy and ultimately overturn its government. (The Sandinistas eventually returned to power in 2007 and are the governing party today.)

The world has moved forward, even though Washington has not. Venezuela today has very strong backing from its neighbors against what almost every government in the region sees as an attempt to destabilize the country.

“The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) reiterates its strong repudiation of the application of unilateral coercive measures that are contrary to international law,” read a statement from every country in the hemisphere except for the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 11. They were responding to the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela that Obama signed into law in December.

Didn’t read any of this in the English-language media? Well, you probably also didn’t see the immediate reaction to yesterday’s White House blunder from the head of the Union of South American Nations, which read, “UNASUR rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.”

RTFA for a history lesson if nothing else. The era of the United States overthrowing Latin American governments and putting little obedient puppets in place ran out of staying power in VietNam. Even if we spent the last decade or so playing at regime change in the Middle East. We all know how well that’s worked out – under a Republican president and under a Democrat.

Along with the mantle of sole superpower on Earth at the end of the World War 2, we acquired the imperial arrogance that comes with the job. During the Cold War years – and nowadays – our government still plays God or at least the chief cop of the world. Pretty much all the inhabitants of the White House over the last seventy years have had no qualms about murdering hundreds of thousands of furriners in the name of American democracy.

The first two examples of imperial gangsterism after the war were overthrowing a democratically-elected government in Guatemala – then doing the same to the first democratically-elected government in the whole of the Middle East – Iran. No one in Latin America or the Middle east needs reminding. Though it seems that Mr. Obama is as poor at recalling the results as George W. Bush.

And politicians that don’t learn anything from history are always doomed to repeat it. Which means sending Americans to kill other folks – who then keep on killing those Americans until we leave their country.

Tim Cook won’t back down — opposes terrorism, selling data, and snooping

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During an unannounced visit to Apple’s Covent Garden store

Following comments regarding Apple Watch specifications and an upcoming Apple Store revamp, Cook spoke with the Telegraph in an extensive interview covering data privacy, government snooping, terrorism and more.

The Apple chief is cognizant of the amount of customer information being “trafficked around” by corporations, governments and other organizations, saying data sharing is a practice that goes against Apple’s core philosophies. He said consumers, however, “don’t fully understand what is going on” at present, but “one day they will, and will be very offended.”

“None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information,” Cook said. “This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give in to scare-mongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand the details…”

The publication also asked about implications of terrorism, especially government surveillance operations created with the intent of aiding law enforcement agencies. Cook took a hard-nosed stance on the topic, saying the issue is a non-starter in his book because terrorists use proprietary encryption tools not under the control of U.S. or UK governments.

“Terrorists will encrypt. They know what to do,” Cook said. “If we don’t encrypt, the people we affect [by cracking down on privacy] are the good people. They are the 99.999 percent of people who are good.” He added, “You don’t want to eliminate everyone’s privacy. If you do, you not only don’t solve the terrorist issue but you also take away something that is a human right. The consequences of doing that are very significant…”

The executive reiterated Apple’s mantra of making products, not marketing consumers as products. Every device and service that comes out of Cupertino is designed to store only a minimal amount of customer information, Cook said.

Finally, Cook talked about privacy as it applies to Apple Pay, the fledgling payments service Apple rolled out in October. Unlike other payments processors, Apple designed Apple Pay to reveal little to no information to outside parties, including itself.

“If you use your phone to buy something on Apple Pay, we don’t want to know what you bought, how much you paid for it and where you bought it. That is between you, your bank and the merchant,” Cook said. “Could we make money from knowing about this? Of course. Do you want us to do that that? No. Would it be in our value system to do that? No. We’ve designed [Apple Pay] to be private and for it to be secure.”

I love the privacy of Apple Pay. I haven’t stopped smiling since the first time a checkout clerk exclaimed…”It doesn’t even tell me your name!”

This is excerpted from a long interview in the TELEGRAPH – worth reading.

American government’s answer to privacy concerns — Trust us!


Women sense my power and they seek the life essence…But, I do deny them my essence, Mandrake.

The National Security Agency director, Mike Rogers…sought to calm a chorus of doubts about the government’s plans to maintain built-in access to data held by US technology companies, saying such “backdoors” would not be harmful to privacy, would not fatally compromise encryption and would not ruin international markets for US technology products.

Rogers mounted an elaborate defense of Barack Obama’s evolving cybersecurity strategy in an appearance before an audience of cryptographers, tech company security officers and national security reporters at the New America Foundation in Washington…

For most of the appearance, however, Rogers was on the defensive, at pains to explain how legal or technological protections could be put in place to ensure that government access to the data of US technology companies would not result in abuse by intelligence agencies. The White House is trying to broker a deal with companies such as Apple, Yahoo and Google, to ensure holes in encryption for the government to access mobile data, cloud computing and other data…

Rogers admitted that concerns about US government infiltration of US companies’ data represented a business risk for US companies, but he suggested that the greater threat was from cyber-attacks…

US technology companies have bridled at government pressure to introduce weaknesses in encryption systems in order to ensure government access to data streams, and technical experts have warned that there is no way to create a “backdoor” in an encryption system without summarily compromising it. An appearance by Obama at a cybersecurity conference at Stanford University last week to tout cooperation between the government and US tech companies was upstaged by an impassioned speech by Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, who warned of the “dire consequences” of sacrificing the right to online privacy…

“‘Backdoor’ is not the context I would use, because when I hear the phrase ‘backdoor’ I think: ‘Well this is kind of shady, why wouldn’t you want to go in the front door, be very public?’” Rogers said. “We can create a legal framework for how we do this.”

“Legal framework”, eh? Let me remind folks the first mass bombing of civilians had a “legal framework”. Hitler’s Condor Legion was invited into Spain by the fascist dictator, Franco. All perfectly legal. They bombed civilians in Madrid, Guernica, across Republican Spain.

Not that the United States would ever “legally” bomb civilians. Oh.

Hospitals buy up doctors’ practices — we get screwed with higher charges

Imagine you’re a Medicare patient, and you go to your doctor for an ultrasound of your heart one month. Medicare pays your doctor’s office $189, and you pay about 20 percent of that bill as a co-payment.

Then, the next month, your doctor’s practice has been bought by the local hospital. You go to the same building and get the same test from the same doctor, but suddenly the price has shot up to $453, as has your share of the bill.

Patients around the country are getting that unpleasant surprise, as more and more doctors’ offices are being bought by hospitals. Medicare, the government health insurance program for those 65 and over or the disabled, pays one price to independent doctors and another to doctors who work for large health systems — even if they are performing the exact same service in the exact same place.

This week, the Obama administration recommended a change to eliminate much of that gap. Despite expected protests from hospitals and doctors, the idea has a chance of being adopted because it would yield huge savings for Medicare and patients.

In the dry language of the annual budget, the White House asks Congress to “encourage efficient care by improving incentives to provide care in the most appropriate ambulatory setting.” In normal English, that means reducing financial incentives that are causing many doctors to sell their practices to hospitals just to take advantage of extra revenue.

The heart doctors are a great example. In 2009, the federal government cut back on what it paid to cardiologists in private practice who offered certain tests to their patients. Medicare determined that the tests, which made up about 30 percent of a typical cardiologist’s revenue, cost more than was justified, and there was evidence that some doctors were overusing them. Suddenly, Medicare paid about a third less than it had before.

But the government didn’t cut what it paid cardiologists who worked for a hospital and provided the same test. It actually paid those doctors more, because the payment systems were completely separate. In general, Medicare assumes that hospital care is by definition more expensive to provide than office-based care.

You can imagine the result: Over the past five years, the number of cardiologists in private practice has plummeted as more and more doctors sold their practices to nearby hospitals that weren’t subject to the new cuts. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of cardiologists working for hospitals more than tripled, according to a survey from the American College of Cardiology, while the percentage working in private practice fell to 36 percent from 59 percent. At the time of the survey, an additional 31 percent of practices were either in the midst of merger talks or considering it. The group’s former chief operating officer once described the shift to me as “like a migration of wildebeests.”

Cardiologists are not the only doctors who have been migrating toward hospital practice. In the last few years, there have been increases in the number of doctors working for hospitals across the specialties. And spreads between fees for office services exist in an array of medical services, down to the basic office visit.

RTFA for more disheartening details. The crux remains, Obama and Congress in those first couple of years managed to get changes through to lower costs for some healthcare. The lawyers, lobbyists and other professional creeps working for the medical-industrial complex figured out a way around the changes – and increased profits to boot. Doctors around the country lined up to join the money parade. Not all of them. There remains a principled class in the corner here and there.

But, who noticed the changes? Who did anything about it? Certainly not Congress. They may be elected to represent the people of America, every state; but, they only listen to the Sound of Money riffling into their bank accounts.

It’s taken Obama till the last half of his second term to stand up and notice the change, propose new legislation to sort the problem. How much of a chance do you think we have of getting regulations through a Congress controlled by greenback conservatives, both Republican and Democrat – and restore a human focus to healthcare and family practice?

Will Democrats walk away from obedience to Wall Street?

FDR vs big banks

America’s presidential election is still nearly two years away, and few candidates have formally thrown their hats into the ring. But both Democrats and Republicans are hard at work figuring out what will appeal to voters in their parties’ respective primary elections – and thinking about what will play well to the electorate as a whole in November 2016.

The contrast between the parties at this stage is striking. Potential Republican presidential candidates are arguing among themselves about almost everything, from economics to social issues; it is hard to say which ideas and arguments will end up on top. The Democrats, by contrast, are in agreement on most issues, with one major exception: financial reform and the power of very large banks.

The Democrats’ internal disagreement on this issue is apparent when one compares three major proposals to address income inequality that the party and its allies have presented in recent weeks. There are only small differences between President Barack Obama’s proposals (in his budget and State of the Union address), those made in a high-profile report from the Center for American Progress, and ideas advanced by Chris Van Hollen, an influential member of Congress. (For example, Van Hollen recommends more redistribution from higher-income people to offset a larger tax cut for middle-income groups.)

Against this backdrop of programmatic unity, the difference of opinion among leading Democrats concerning Wall Street – both the specifics of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms and more broadly – stands out in bold relief.

But a serious challenge to all of these views has now emerged, in proposals by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a rising Democratic star who has become increasingly prominent at the national level. In her view, the authorities need to confront head-on the outsize influence and dangerous structure of America’s largest banks.

Warren’s opponents like to suggest that her ideas are somehow outside the mainstream; in fact, she draws support from across the political spectrum. In last month’s fight against Citigroup’s successful effort to roll back Dodd-Frank, for example, Warren’s allies included the House Democratic leadership, the Independent Community Bankers of America, Republican Senator David Vitter, and Thomas Hoenig (a Republican-appointed vice chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).

Warren’s message is simple: remove the implicit government subsidies that support the too-big-to-fail banks. That single move would go a long way toward reducing, if not eliminating, crony capitalism and strengthening market competition in the financial sector. This is a message that plays well across the political spectrum. And growing support for Warren’s ideas helps the Federal Reserve and other responsible regulators in their efforts to prevent big banks from taking on dangerous levels of risk.

RTFA. Consider the possibility that the Democrat Party – unlike Republicans – might challenge subservience to Wall Street or be satisfied with populist lip service to core reforms pressed by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and many others?

Hard to fool a detainee with a fake letter from mom – when he knows she can’t write


Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Guantánamo prison camp authorities tried to trick inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi by forging a letter purportedly from his mother whom he had been unable to see for years, his brother Yahdih has said.

The ploy, which was intended to persuade him to cooperate with his interrogators, failed not only because they misspelt Slahi’s name but also because his mother could not write.

This week Slahi became the first inmate to publish a memoir while still incarcerated when Guantánamo Diary was published in 20 countries and serialised in the Guardian.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event organised by the Guardian in partnership with Canongate, the publisher of Guantánamo Diary, and PEN, the writers’ association, Yahdih Ould Slahi said his brother had not been able to see his mother before she died at their home in Mauritania in 2013…

The 44-year-old engineer was first detained in 2001 in Mauritania at the request of the US government, then rendered to Jordan and Afghanistan and tortured, and then flown to Guantánamo.

He is one of two inmates whose “additional interrogation techniques” were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, according to a US Senate inquiry. Slahi was dressed in a burqa, deprived of sleep, subjected to strobe lights, doused in water, threatened with dogs, sexually assaulted by female interrogators and forced to bark and perform dog tricks.

He wrote his memoir by hand after learning English, his fourth language, from his Guantánamo guards and interrogators, and it was published this week after his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, battled for six years to have the document declassified.

Hollander told the event that Slahi’s descriptions of the abuse that he had suffered at Guantánamo had already been confirmed by both the Senate inquiry and a separate investigation by the FBI…

Hollander said her client had been in a form of legal limbo since the US government lodged an appeal after a US district court judge ordered his release…

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition demanding Slahi’s release.

One more case where Obama’s Administration matches the incompetence of his neo-con predecessor. Incompetence, that is, at differentiating liberal foreign policy from the conservative flavor. There may be some small difference in the total number of civilians killed. But, the destruction of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights guaranteed by international treaty seem to be consistent between both flavors of imperial arrogance.

Palestine becomes a member of the International Criminal Court


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Francois Lenoir

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed that the Palestinians will officially become a member of the International Criminal Court on April 1…

On Friday the Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters documents on joining the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international treaties, in a move that has heightened tensions with Israel and could lead to cuts in U.S. aid.

Israel will say, Jump! Obama and Congress will ask, “How high?”

The official announcement of the date of the Palestinian accession to the ICC, in the form of a letter from Ban, was posted on a U.N. website. The United Nations is the official depositary of the Rome Statute and many other treaties.

Under ICC rules, Palestinian membership would allow the court, based in The Hague, to exercise jurisdiction over war crimes committed by anyone on Palestinian territory, without a referral from the U.N. Security Council. Israel, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome statute, but its citizens could be tried for actions taken on Palestinian land…

Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.

Overdue.

Also overdue is prosecution of Israel for apartheid, all the fascist practices that government has instituted in territory acquired by force of arms.