The American Bear


President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the FBI forcefully argued to the Senate that the oversight mechanisms on the government’s widespread surveillance of phone records and online habits sufficiently protect Americans’ privacy.

James Comey defends US surveillance practices at FBI confirmation hearing

And that’s about all you need to know about Obama’s new head of the FBI.

There is this part where Comey tells us that, as a Father of course, he felt that waterboarding (which he signed off on when he worked in the Bush DOJ) might be torture, but it all sounded so legal that he was helpless in doing anything to prevent it. Apparently the resignation tactic he’s so famous for didn’t come to mind. Some of the Democrats teased him about it, but “none expressed opposition to Comey’s nomination.”

As Ackerman notes:

Instead, Comey’s hearing, nearly three hours long, occasionally seemed like a coronation. [Senator] Blumenthal said Comey enjoyed “very solid support” on the committee. Comey made self-deprecating jokes and slipped into colloquialisms. Queried about the FBI’s current practice of reading emails older than 180 days without a warrant, Comey said: “I don’t think the fourth amendment has, like your yogurt, an expiration date.”

Obama’s crackdown views leaks as aiding enemies of U.S. | McClatchy

Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

Do continue.

The CIA’s deputy director plans to retire and will be replaced by White House lawyer and agency outsider Avril D. Haines, Director John O. Brennan said Wednesday. … In a message to the CIA on Wednesday afternoon, Brennan emphasized that Haines, 43, has worked closely with senior national security officials. ‘She has participated in virtually every deputies and principals committee meeting over the past two years and chairs the lawyer’s group that reviews the agency’s most sensitive programs,’ the statement said. … [Michael] Morell, a 33-year CIA veteran who twice served as acting director, said in an interview that he decided last month to resign because ‘I want to and I need to devote more attention to my family.’ Morell has three college-age children.

CIA’s deputy director to be replaced with White House lawyer | The Washington Post

As always, statements like these make me wonder what the real story is. The rest of the Post story is useless in this regard. (Echo…echo…echo).

Susan Rice, Power and Empire | Binoy Kampmark

What comes close to an imperial formula, but pretends to be something else? President Barack Obama’s distillation of it, a version where violence is carefully projected, directed and rendered, to use that ghastly term from international relations speak, “soft”. A bit of killing must be done, but generally speaking, the world’s citizens will still wish they could muster an American in their vitals to come forth and take the stand for Uncle Sam. The appointment of Susan E. Rice to the position of national security advisor exemplifies this.

This is a punch padded by the velvet glove, though that particular item is fraying. On announcing Rice’s appointment, the President outlined a few of his reasons which had the rancid smell of empire. “With her background as a scholar, Susan understands that there’s no substitute for American leadership.” Start the beat of the tom-toms. “She is at once passionate and pragmatic. I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately.” [continue]

[T]here was something the NSA was doing for years - that we still don’t know - even more extreme than the illegal NSA program revealed by the NYT in 2005. It was [former Deputy Attorney General James] Comey, along with Ashcroft, Mueller, and Goldsmith, who threatened to resign if it did not stop, and they deserve credit for that. But the reason they didn’t end up resigning was because Bush officials ‘modified’ that NSA program into something those lawyers could and did endorse: the still-illegal, still-radical NSA eavesdropping program that spied on the communications of Americans without warrants and in violation of the law. And this was accomplished by inventing a new legal theory to accompany the old one: that Congress, when it enacted the 2001 AUMF, silently and ‘implicitly’ authorized Bush to eavesdrop in exactly the ways the law expressly forbade. Thus, it was Comey who gave his legal approval to enable that NSA eavesdropping program to spy on Americans without warrants: the same program that produced so much outrage and scandal when revealed by the NYT. How can any progressive who spent the Bush years vehemently denouncing that domestic spying program as the symbol of Bush radicalism and lawlessness now cheer when the lawyer who approved it is about to be put in charge of the FBI? Obama’s new FBI chief approved Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping scheme

'We could care less about a criminal case when right before us is the need to protect American citizens and to save lives,' Comey told reporters, presumably grabbing his genitals. 'We’ll figure out down the road what we do with Jose Padilla.' His remarks mean he will do well at the FBI, that Comey, leading a department where protecting Americans has long served as justification for ignoring their rights.

Charles Davis, James Comey ain’t your homey

More: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I.

Report: Holder Personally Approved Search Warrant On Fox Reporter | Jonathan Turley

Attorney General Eric Holder recently appeared before the House Judiciary Committee and denied any involvement in the abuse searches targeting the Associated Press by the Obama Administration. Holder seemed to morph with his predecessor Alberto Gonzales with a mantra of “I have no knowledge” and “I had no involvement” in the scandal. It was a disturbing defense in one of the greatest attacks on the free press in modern times. Now, however, Holder’s fingerprints have been found on an equally disturbing targeting of a Fox reporter, James Rosen. As with the Associated Press, Rosen was targeted for simply speaking with a source in a story involving classified information. Even his parents telephone information was seized in the abusive operation where Rosen was declared a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act.

Holder’s order led to Justice Department investigators secretly seizing his private emails because he was found to have “asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.” That is called being a reporter.

It is astonishing to see apologists continuing their effort to excuse the record of the Obama Administration in attacking reporters and whistleblowers. While various public interest and media groups have denounced these acts, many still cannot get themselves to criticize President Obama for this disgraceful legacy. Obama has been aware of the criticism for targeting reporters and whistleblowers for years and has done nothing — just as he is aware of the complaints of civil libertarians over kill lists, torture, and other abusive policies. He has not simply destroyed the civil liberties movement in the United States, as previously discussed, but the very soul of the Democratic Party which once [briefly] stood for principles of privacy and the free press.

These issues were placed squarely before Holder in the Rosen search and he did what he has done in so many other constitutional conflict: he kicked principle into the gutter. He has shown again that his view of constitutional protections borders on open contempt. He is the very image of what Louis Brandeis once described in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928):

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Source: Politico

Whether or not this has been formulated in written policy, it seems clear that the way the Obama administration attempts to control the release of classified information is by trying to exert as much control over those who receive such information as those who disseminate it. The leaker and the recipient are treated as sharing equal responsibility — even though in reality both the power and the responsibility lies in the hands of those government officials who possess security clearances. The administration draws no distinction between the publication of leaked information and the leak itself — as though classified information is being leaked by the press, when in fact it is being leaked to the press. Paul Woodward

Obama nominates one of the 300 richest Americans to be Secretary of Commerce


Penny Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, has long opposed labor, worked to close Chicago public schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and— worst of all— pioneered sub-prime mortgage operations out of Superior Bank in Chicago, targeting poor and working class people of color and ultimately crashing the bank at a billion dollar cost to taxpayers.

Said Obama, “She knows from experience that no government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur.”

Sources: Common Dreams, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal

Some essential background on Penny and her teflon family: The Privelege of the Pritzkers

Here’s one key takeaway:

The Pritzkers convinced the rating agencies that if any mortgage goes bad they would take it out of the bond portfolio and put a fresh mortgage in. So the raters said, “if that’s collateral substitution, the bond can’t default.” They forgot to ask the one question: what if you can’t make mortgages anymore? They couldn’t when they were taken over. That was the start of the collapse of subprime mortgages. They never should have been investment grade. But once it became investment grade, Merrill Lynch was doing it with the Pritzkers, then Countrywide, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual had to do it because every major pension fund wanted these investment grade subprime mortgages. They paid a very high yield and knew they were quality because the rating agency said investment grade triple A. They never were triple A. We all have hindsight. The Pritzkers created the investment grade for the entire subprime mortgage industry. Once that collapsed, the worldwide economy collapsed. And this is the person they want to put as Secretary of Commerce.

Penny is also a key figure in the push to close Chicago public schools, crush the teacher’s union (CTU) and shove charters down our throats:

Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education — which includes billionaire hotel heiress and Democratic Party power player Penny Pritzker — have continued this push, particularly around school closures. Currently on the table is a proposal to close 100 unionized neighborhood public schools around the city and replace them with 60 nonunion charters — a move that would simultaneously decimate the union’s membership, redirect public money to privately-run charters that lack basic mechanisms for public accountability, slash teachers’ salaries and benefits, and cause massive disruption in the poor black and brown neighborhoods where the majority of closures would take place.

But she raised a billion for Obama, and that debt, unlike her own, must be repaid.


"Seriously, if we believe a 14 year old is too immature to know how to take a pill, do we really think she’s adult enough to handle an unwanted pregnancy?

"The truth is that the age restriction is completely arbitrary, tied only to our puritanical comfort levels. And listen, I get it; I think it’s fair to say that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a 14 year old having sex. But here’s the thing - access to Plan B isn’t about keeping a 14 year old from having sex - by the time she gets to the pharmacy, that ship has sailed - it’s about keeping a 14 year old who has already had sex from getting pregnant. And despite what urban legend (or past embarrassing FDA memos) may tell you, making emergency contraception more available is not more likely to make young teens have sex - it will just make them less likely to end up pregnant.

"We can’t let our discomfort with teen sex trump young people’s right to sexual and reproductive health and we can’t continue to let politics trump science. If we care about young women’s health and bodily autonomy and integrity, we’ll drop all age restrictions from emergency contraception. Anything less isn’t just illogical - it’s immoral."

“Hey, FDA: Drop the Plan B Age Restriction,” my latest at The Nation (via jessicavalenti)

(Source: jessicavalenti)

The last time the State Department has had a permanent in-house watchdog to investigate fraud, waste and abuse, Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak were entrenched as ‘dictators for life,’ Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State and the junior senator from Illinois was still a long shot for the Democratic nomination. In other words, it has been a long time since the State Department Office of Inspector General has had a permanent leader — 1,920 days and counting. After 5 Years, Is Obama Ready to Fill State Department Vacancy? (via govtoversight)

When Barack Obama entered office in 2009 he claimed the right to ‘look forward, not back’ that wasn’t his to claim. The law requires war crimes be investigated and prosecuted if evidence of guilt is found. Behind a veil of political pragmatism, not wanting to be caught up in ‘partisan’ politics, Mr. Obama moved America’s programs of political torture and murder into the 21st century. Had he enthusiastically prosecuted Bush administration crimes Mr. Obama could have revived international sanction against aggressive war and torture and ended, even if only temporarily, the use of ancient imperial techniques in a world with the technological capacity to murder, maim and torture beyond the ancient imagination. Instead of doing this Mr. Obama claimed the illegitimate and illegal rights of aggressive war, permanent incarceration of known innocents, torture and technocratic slaughter, all under the cover of opaque public relations techniques, quasi-sophisticated language and his casual demeanor. By choosing continuity and enhancement over clear, straightforward and unambiguous break with Mr. Bush’s catastrophic policies, Mr. Obama codified them into the set of ‘acceptable’ practices of American empire. Rob Urie, The High Crime of Torture

The High Crime of Torture | Rob Urie

Confirmation by the Constitution Project nearly a decade late that the George W. Bush administration and the U.S. military and ‘intelligence’ services committed acts of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere appears a Rorschach test for the ‘sentiments’ of the American people. However, sentiments aside, formal indictments of culpable officials on war crimes charges and the start of impeachment proceedings against current President Barack Obama are the only relevant responses to the report. Torture is a crime under laws to which the U.S. is signatory. And with his war on Iraq George W. Bush and his administration murdered, or caused the premature deaths of, more than a million people and substantially destroyed a modern nation state.

By 2004, when pictures of Iraqi civilians being tortured and humiliated at Abu Ghraib prison were leaked, it was widely evident the Bush administration had established a global system of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. The grotesque euphemisms ‘take the gloves off’ and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ provided cover for criminal behavior only to the extent Americans were willing to suspend judgment of what was before their eyes. The ‘fog of war’ was the fog of contrived fear and the malicious acts of America’s idiot prince and his bosses and acolytes were fueled by ignorance and fed on arrogance and stupidity. The language of nationalist psychosis was revived to insist the saving of ‘American’ lives was worth any price and as the Constitution Project report demonstrates, America’s victims paid that price in real time. And today under the new boss, Barack Obama, they are still paying.

… [T]his piece is written in the context of events surrounding the recent bombings in Boston. I lived in Cambridge, a few miles from the bombings, for five years and only recently moved back to New York. I have for decades had family and friends who have run the Boston Marathon, have been an avid runner myself for some twenty-five years, and have been a spectator at the Marathon on several occasions. There is no argument that could be made that any of the victims of the bombings were legitimate political targets. Where I now grieve for those maimed and murdered in Boston, so have I grieved for the innocents, now numbering over one million in Iraq and Afghanistan, who died in illegal wars of aggression, and the many who were also illegally tortured. If what happened in Boston was a crime, and it was, so too is illegitimate war and torture. Mr. Bush and his administration, and now with Mr. Obama joining him, deserve fair trials for their crimes and fitting punishment if found guilty, just as the murderers in Boston do. [READ]

Mr. Obama is who he is. But those who voted for him have some explaining to do. I oppose Mr. Obama’s policies and would have likewise vocally, and otherwise, opposed those of Mitt Romney had he ‘won.’ Were this simply a matter of resentment the situation would take care of itself—you are the schmucks who cut your own Social Security and Medicare programs. But if you think this is it, that the worst is over, I humbly suggest that was your view when Mr. Obama won his second term. To those paying attention, the Dodd-Frank legislation being sold as a way to ‘reign-in’ bailed out banks contains ‘Cyprus’ clauses that leave banks (or their creditors, beginning with derivatives counter-parties) no alternative than to seize insured deposits when they need their next inevitable bailout. On the plus side, this will eliminate the time-consuming theater of austerity ‘debates.’ On the minus side, Mr. Obama is exponentially increasing the misery of society’s most vulnerable. But I’m confident he appreciates your support for his policies.

Rob Urie, Obama Does Social Security and Medicare