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Archive | Politics

Hypocrisy and the Surveillance Stand-Off: Feinstein and the CIA

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, listening during the nomination hearing for John Brennan as CIA director, Feb. 7, 2013. Source: Wikimedia

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s blistering attack on the CIA’s conduct in searching the computers used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was deemed a remarkable salvo.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, during the nomination hearing for John Brennan as CIA director, Feb. 7, 2013. Source: Wikimedia

The search was engendered by the Committee’s official request for a final version of the named “Internal Panetta Review.” The Review had been created for internal use by the CIA as a record of assessing what documents should be turned over to the Committee in connection with its investigation of the torture program. Once the CIA got wind that their precious internal documentation was finding its way into the hands of the committee, the hackers got itchy.

Senator Feinstein herself charged the CIA with violating the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Executive Order 12333. This raises the first problem. The CFAA is a legislative creation that exempts authorised law enforcement and intelligence activities. Legal commentary from former Chief Counsel for the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence, Chris Donesa at Lawfare puts the question as whether “the CIA’s investigation and search was in fact ‘lawfully authorised’ or merely a pretext for deliberate efforts to obstruct or interfere with the SSCI investigation.”

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Easing Congressional Gridlock: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide

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'Easing Congressional Gridlock' by Carol Bailey. Download here.

The United States is ungovernable.

‘Easing Congressional Gridlock’ by Carol Bailey. Download here

Or at least it has been every time, post-Reagan, the White House has been controlled by a Democrat while Congress is in the clasps of a Tea Party infested Republican party.

An exasperated electorate is watching the gridlock. A playful, yet serious, manifestation of the resulting frustration is the pamphlet that my dear friend, Seattle divorce lawyer Carol Bailey, published recently and distributed to members of Congress in situ herself. It is, you guessed it, a divorce lawyer’s guide to easing congressional gridlock. (Click here for a relevant article in Politico).

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Deep in the Trough: The Politics of EU Corruption

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Corruption isn't unique to the EU. Photo: Jason Mrachina

“The Member States of the EU are not immune to this reality. Corruption varies in nature and extent from one country to another, but it affects all Member States.” – European Union Anti-Corruption Report

Corruption isn’t unique to the EU. Photo: Jason Mrachina

It has become one of those curious organisations: sanctimonious yet delinquent; aspiring and failing. Riddled with ordinances, directives and suggestions about the rule of law, the European Union has found itself in another round of financial bother. Money speaks, and money has spoken rather loudly through the European Commission – to the tune of €120 billion. The EU Anti-Corruption Report, authored by the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament is filled with bureaucratic stodge (“Eurobarometer surveys” on perceptions of corruption, to take one example) and themes. It was clear, claimed EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, that Europe lacked “corruption-free” zones.

In what is an at times painful read, the report suggests in contorted fashion that “Member States can be characterised in different ways” in terms of experiences over who gets bribed or who doesn’t. That is when the report gets interesting. Perceptions and prejudices, in various measures, combine to create a landscape of stringency, or laxness. “Answers confirm a positive perception and low experience of bribery in the case of Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden.” In those countries, the expectation that a bribe had to be paid lay at less than 1 percent.

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Taming the NSA: Obama’s Lukewarm Recipe

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President Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration's review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programs. Pete Souza/White House

“A number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower.” – President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration’s review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programs. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama offered it as a small olive to a public he had been lecturing for months. Ever since the disclosures by Edward Snowden of massive surveillance programs, the White House has had to play a form of political catch-up, its capacious tail dragging along in the process. Suggestions have been made about reforming aspects of the National Security Agency, most notably on its bulk collecting facility.

The theme in these deliberations has been uncomplicated. Activities on the part of the NSA and the Foreign Intelligence Service Court (FISC) have been regarded, in the main, as necessary and noble ventures. They are legal. They are needed. The Obama administration’s August white paper was a true whitewashing of the bulk surveillance program. Congress endorsed it. It had been reviewed by the FISC. According to former NSA director Michael Hayden, it was created and reviewed by all three branches of government. Those questioning it might well be suffering mild bouts of paranoia.

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Leaders Wanted

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Pro-European Union rally in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo: Ivan Bandura

Since late November, when Ukraine’s president, Victor Yanukovych, refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, protesters have congregated in downtown Kiev.

Pro-European Union rally in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo: Ivan Bandura

They are defying what they see as a blatant attempt to maintain a post-Soviet world order in a country aspiring to the European system based on the rule of law and respect for citizens. While the protesters have braved frigid temperatures and attacks by government riot police, no credible opposition candidate appears capable of harnessing the protestors’ outrage to negotiate on their behalf. To the southwest, in Bulgaria, protests are now entering their seventh month. Sparked by a controversial cabinet nomination but now largely focused on rampant corruption and poor governance, the protestors are voicing their frustration with a political class they see as rapacious, venal, and uninterested in resolving serious issues such as widespread poverty, wage stagnation, and rising unemployment.

And while the protesters’ calls for greater transparency and an end to the kleptocratic rule of successive governments in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, institutionalized since the fall of the Berlin Wall, no unifying figure has emerged around which the protestors have been able to coalesce. Similarly to Ukraine, the movement for political change, however extensive it may be within the country, has stalled, leading protestors in both countries with little recourse but to shout their demands at an increasingly deaf leadership who will not heed their cries for new elections.

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Is India’s Congress Party Facing Electoral Trouble?

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India's Rahul Gandhi

Voting for India’s five states assembly elections ended on December 4th.

India’s Rahul Gandhi

The exit polls are predicting the results of the elections with the Congress party likely to lose in all five states while the BJP can expect to hold on to Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it has ruled for the last two terms, and will defeat the Congress party in the state of Delhi and Rajasthan. Also in the state of Mizoram, a small state located in northeast India, the ruling Congress party is expected to lose against the local opposition party, Mizo National Front. If these exit polls turn out to be accurate, the Congress party will lose in all five states which will definitely be reflected in next year’s parliamentary elections.

The key reason for the possible defeat of Congress party in the state assembly elections is its lack of focus on real and crucial public issues, such as corruption and rising food prices. For the first few months of 2013, the Congress party engaged in BJP’s internal politics and it lost respect by meddling in the opposition party’s internal politics. Party leaders, consciously and actively, kept making statements adding extra fuel in the brawl between L K Advani against BJP and Modi. This was an unprecedented gesture of desperation to prevent Modi from becoming a prime ministerial candidate.

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Navigating Yemeni Politics

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A young girl in a Yemeni  refugee camp.  Photo: Paul Stephens

Chances are dim that elections will be held in Yemen next February.

A young girl in a Yemeni refugee camp. Photo: Paul Stephens

Yet without elections, the push for reforms and change that were inspired by the Yemeni revolution would become devoid of any real value. Yemenis might find themselves back on the street, repeating the original demands that echoed in the country’s many impoverished cities, streets and at every corner.

It is not easy to navigate the convoluted circumstances that govern Yemeni politics, which seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis. When millions of Yemenis started taking to the streets on January 27, 2011, a sense of hope prevailed that Yemen would be transformed from a country ruled by elites, and mostly beholden to outside regional and international powers, to a country of a different type: one that responds to the collective aspirations of its own people.

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Who Votes for a Mayor like Rob Ford?

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Not just fans of free candy. Photo: Jason Verwey

Toronto politics has never been the stuff of international headlines. A prosperous and cosmopolitan metropolis that has attracted a million new residents every decade since the end of the World War Two, Toronto’s quiet virtue has been honest, uncontroversial, and competent government.

Not just fans of free candy. Photo: Jason Verwey

But, as any connoisseurs of Twitter or late-night comedy television will tell you, all that has changed. After police surveillance revealed his friendly relations with known drug dealers and his public admission of having smoked crack cocaine while in “one of my drunken stupors”, Mayor Rob Ford has finally put Toronto on the map in a way that countless tourism promotions and investment development campaigns have never managed.

Questions abound: who exactly is Rob Ford? How did he get elected in the first place? What may enable him to hang onto office, and possibly be re-elected, when lesser scandals have felled much mightier politicians? These questions are closely linked through Rob Ford’s singular appeal to an important and under-appreciated segment of Toronto’s electorate.

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Political Wheel may be Turning on the NSA’s Surveillance Program

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NSA director Keith Alexander has been forced to defend his agency’s operations after a series of revelations, exposing mass data gathering and surveillance programs on US citizens and world leaders. EPA/Shawn Thew

It is now clear that the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA) has undertaken an unprecedented surveillance program. NSA’s aim is to monitor all communications of every American, and this is no secret.

NSA director Keith Alexander has been forced to defend his agency’s operations after a series of revelations. Shawn Thew/EPA

During a recent Senate hearing, Democrat senator Mark Udall asked NSA director Keith Alexander, “Is it the goal of the NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans?” Alexander bluntly replied, “Yes, I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it. Yes.”

The NSA has achieved significant inroads into realising this aim. It has collected and stored incomprehensible quantities of data in the form of voice records, emails, phone call records, texts and financial information. The NSA now possesses vast amounts of information on world leaders, foreign citizens and ordinary Americans. The general picture painted by these releases is of an immensely powerful, out of control, secretive government agency. And this is not completely wrong. The executive and legislative branches, whose primary job it is to direct the actions of agencies such as the NSA, have apparently been shut out or negligent in their duties.

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Ralph Miliband: The Illusion of Radical Change

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Pictured: Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader

Radical conservative critiques often suffer from one crippling flaw: they are mirrors of their revolutionary heritage, apologies for their own deceptions. If you want someone who detests the Left, whom better than someone formerly of the card carrying, Molotov throwing fold?

Pictured: Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader

The forces have been recently marshalled against British Labor leader Ed Miliband hover over one distinct legacy: that of his father’s. Ralph Miliband is treated by critics of the British left as enormous, a gargantuan figure who fathered two significant figures of the British Labor movement. While David has taken a back seat for the moment, Ed is very much at the fore in his quest to defeat Prime Minister David Cameron.

On October 1, Geoffrey Levy fired the first salvo about Ed’s purported desire to eradicate Thatcherite Britain. “Ed is now determined to bring about that vision….How proud Ralph would have been to hear him responding the other day to a man in the street who asked when he was ‘going to bring back socialism’ with the words: ‘That’s what we are doing, sir.’” It would be a bit much to accuse Levy of radical tendencies. It would be fairer to attribute his views to a particular constituency and cerebrally challenged view typical of the Daily Mail. If a sewer could ever own an ideology, it would own the Mail.

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Government Shutdown: Barack Obama Warns of Default Danger

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President Barack Obama has been quick to blame the Republican Party for the government shutdown. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

US President Barack Obama has warned that Wall Street should be concerned that a conservative faction of Republicans is willing to allow the country to default on its debt.

President Barack Obama has been quick to blame the Republican Party for the government shutdown. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The US government has partially closed after Congress failed to agree a budget and will run out of cash on 17 October unless its debt ceiling is raised. In a TV interview on Wednesday, Mr. Obama said he was “exasperated”. He later held talks with Congressional leaders that ended without agreement.

The US government closed non-essential operations on Tuesday after Congress failed to strike a deal on a new budget. Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for the impasse. The shutdown has left more than 700,000 employees on unpaid leave and closed national parks, tourist sites, government websites, office buildings, and more. However, as one budget crisis raged in Washington DC, another one – potentially more dangerous – loomed in the coming weeks. On 17 October, the US government will run out of cash to pay its bills unless the debt ceiling is raised.

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Boehner Risks his Reputation in Obamacare Shutdown

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Speaker of the House John Boehner walks into a meeting with House Republicans, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, 28 September 2013.  Michael Reynolds/EPA

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner faced a choice between two unappetising gambles on Monday night.

Speaker of the House John Boehner walks into a meeting with House Republicans, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, 28 September 2013. Michael Reynolds/EPA

One option was to cut a deal with Democrats to continue federal government spending at present levels, and in so doing trigger a revolt from the radical wing of his own party that might end his speakership. The other was to dig in, precipitate a partial shut-down of the government, and risk the public assigning the blame to congressional Republicans. Caught between grim and grimmer as far as political prospects were concerned, he has gone for option two, and the government shutdown has begun.

While the sudden reality of the derailing of the US government may come as a surprise to some, for regular viewers this represents the feared collision at the end of a long series of games of chicken between the president Barack Obama (and the Democrat-controlled senate) on one side and the Republican House on the other. Since the Republican victory in the 2010 congressional elections, which gave them control of the House, power and influence has steadily accrued in the hands of the radical wing of the party, elected from safe Republican constituencies on the back of a wave of anti-tax, anti-government fundamentalism among the base of primary voters.

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U.S. Government Shutdown Begins amid Budget Row

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U.S. Capitol

The US government has begun a partial shutdown after the two houses of Congress failed to agree a budget.

U.S. Capitol

The Republican-led House of Representatives insisted on delaying Mr Obama’s healthcare reform – dubbed Obamacare – as a condition for passing a bill. More than 800,000 federal employees face unpaid leave with no guarantee of back pay once the deadlock is over. It is the first partial shutdown in 17 years.

The economic impact will depend on how long the deadlock lasts, but Goldman Sachs estimates a three-week shutdown could shave as much as 0.9% from US GDP this quarter. With less than one hour to go before midnight, the Republican-led House called for a conference – a bipartisan committee with the Senate – to try to thrash out a deal, but Democrats said it was too late to avoid a shutdown.

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Markets Uneasy over Government Shutdown and Crisis in Italy

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Speaker of the House John Boehner during a press conference.  Photo: Bryant Avondoglio

Financial markets have been hit by the prospect of a US government shutdown and a crisis for Italy’s government. Italy’s stock market has fallen almost 2%, while shares in London, Frankfurt and Paris have dropped by about 1%.

Speaker of the House John Boehner during a press conference. Photo: Bryant Avondoglio

The US needs to agree a new spending bill before the financial year ends at midnight on Monday. But political divisions have resulted in a stalemate. In Italy, Prime Minister Enrico Letta is to hold a confidence vote on Wednesday. There are worries over the economic impact of a shutdown of the US government. If the government does shut down on 1 October, as many as a third of its 2.1 million employees are expected to stop work – with no guarantee of back pay once the deadlock is resolved. National parks and Washington’s Smithsonian museums would close, pension and veterans’ benefit cheques would be delayed, and visa and passport applications would be stymied. Programmes deemed essential, such as air traffic control and food inspections, would continue.

Republicans are targeting President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, popularly known as Obamacare. Early on Sunday, the Republican-run House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Senate spending bill that removed funding for the healthcare law. US Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has vowed that his Democrat-led chamber will reject the Republican bill. “Tomorrow, the Senate will do exactly what we said we would do and reject these measures,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “At that point, Republicans will be faced with the same choice they have always faced: put the Senate’s clean funding bill on the floor and let it pass with bipartisan votes, or force a Republican government shutdown.”

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The Merkel Factor: Germany, Angie and a Third Term

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Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel.  Source: REGIERUNGonline/Kugler

When a term “factor” is deployed in the description of political power, one is reminded of sun screen, a perfume, an ingredient to ingest.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel. Source: REGIERUNGonline/Kugler

One is certainly not reminded of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel who on Sunday won a thumping result with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The achievement is made even more remarkable by the fact that she might net an absolute majority, a rare feat in German politics. Current figures show that Merkel has garnered 42 percent, though the final figures will depend on whether such parties as the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) break the 5 percent threshold.

National assumptions are the oldest assumptions in the dog-eared book of stereotypes. Political analysts pretend to draw on scientific projections when merely reformulating old prejudices. But in dealing with Merkel, we have a few that stand out. In 2009, prior to the previous election, Detmar Doering of the Liberal Institute in Potsdam claimed that, “German voters aren’t stupid – they don’t want a Britney Spears as the chancellor of Germany, they want a serious leader whom they can trust. Merkel knows what she is doing.”

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