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Capitol Hill

Tag Archives | Capitol Hill

U.S. Senators back Release of CIA Abuse Details

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George W. Bush

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to recommend declassification of part of its report into “brutal” interrogation methods used by the CIA when questioning terror suspects. But officials say it will be some time before the summary is made public. Leaked parts of the report said that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W Bush was president. The CIA disputes some of the findings, saying the report contains errors. Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said that it had voted 11-3 to declassify what she called the “shocking” results of the investigation. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do,” the California Democrat said.

Correspondents say that while some of the committee’s Republicans voted with the Democrats in favour of declassifying the report, it was clear there were bitter divides within the panel. Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said that while he voted for the report’s declassification “to get it behind us,” it was still “a waste of time.”

A statement released by Ms. Feinstein said that the report highlighted “major problems” with the CIA’s management of its secret Detention and Interrogation Programme, which involved more than 100 detainees. “This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important,” the statement said. “The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them. It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day.”

The statement said that the full 6,200-page report – which took five years to compile – has been updated and will be declassified at a later time. It said that the executive summary, findings and conclusions – which total more than 500 pages – will be sent to President Barack Obama for declassification review and subsequent public release. Leaks of the report in the Washington Post on Tuesday said that the CIA used secret “black sites” to interrogate prisoners using techniques not previously acknowledged. These included dunking suspects in icy water and smashing a prisoner’s head against a wall. Officials said that the CIA’s interrogation programme yielded little useful intelligence and was not helpful in the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden or anything else of value.

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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A Tale of Two Debt Ceilings

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President Barack Obama speaking from the White House

With the House of Representatives approving a Senate bill to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, a dysfunctional 16 days has finally come to an end.

President Barack Obama speaking from the White House. Source: YouTube

Among the negative effects of the shutdown was the furloughing of hundreds of thousands of government workers, delayed hiring, temporary closure of federal landmarks and parks, and about 24 billion USD of lost economic activity according to the ratings agency, S&P. One effect, which is strangely missing is a negative impact on global stock markets. One would expect prices to have suffered as they did in the run up to the last debt ceiling deadline in the summer of 2011, but equity markets around the world rallied in the days leading up to the October 17th deadline.

The last two debt ceiling crises ended in similar ways; default was narrowly avoided at the last minute after weeks of partisan politics devoid of compromise. The market reactions however, were very different. The average performance of five major global stock indices (Dow Jones Industrial Average, FTSE 100 in London, CAC 40 in Paris, DAX in Frankfurt, and Honk Kong’s HSI) in the five trading days before a deal was announced yesterday was a 2.72% increase in value. The average movement for the same indices in the five days leading up to a 2011 deal was a 2.20% decrease in value. What conclusions can be drawn from the two market reactions to the debt ceiling crises?

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China Warns the U.S. over Default

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Zhu Guangyao

Senior Chinese official has warned that the “clock is ticking” to avoid a US default that could hurt China’s interests and the global economy.  China, the US’s largest creditor, is “naturally concerned about developments in the US fiscal cliff”, vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao said.  Washington must agree a deal to raise its borrowing limit by 17 October, or risk being unable to pay its bills.

He asked that “the US earnestly take steps to resolve” the issue.  US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said that unless Congress agrees an increase in the debt ceiling by 17 October, Washington will be left with about $30bn (£18.6bn) in cash to meet its obligations – about half the $60bn-a-day needed.  For many governments and investors the approaching deadlock over the debt ceiling is far more critical than the current impasse over the federal shutdown caused by Congress’s failure to agree a new budget.  On Sunday Republican House Speaker John Boehner reiterated that Republican lawmakers would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless it included measures to rein in public spending.

Mr. Zhu said that China and the US are “inseparable”. Beijing is a huge investor in US Treasury bonds. “The executive branch of the US government has to take decisive and credible steps to avoid a default on its Treasury bonds,” he said. “It is important for the US economy as well as the global economy.”

“We hope the United States fully understands the lessons of history,” Mr. Zhu said, referring to a similar deadlock in 2011 that led to a downgrade of the US “AAA” credit rating.  That deadlock ended with an eleventh-hour agreement.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate with Republicans in the House of Representatives “under the threat of economic catastrophe”.  He said that he and the Democrats in Congress had already agreed to fund the US government at levels that were favourable to Republicans but lower than preferred by the Democrats.  There is little doubt that Mr. Boehner could whenever he wants gather enough votes from moderate Republicans and most all Democrats to reopen the government, says Dick Meyer, BBC executive producer, America.

Mr. Obama called on Mr. Boehner to allow his caucus to “vote their conscience” on a bill that would fund the government. “If Republicans and Speaker Boehner are saying there are not enough votes, then they should prove it,” he said, adding he had a “strong suspicion” there would be enough Republicans to join Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass the bill. “Let the bill go to the floor and let’s see what happens. Just vote.”

Washington Dysfunction: Everybody Will Leave the Budget Debate Blemished

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President Barack Obama meets with the House and Senate Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House to discuss the budget.  Pete Souza/White House

This budget stuff has me worried; uncertainty surrounding the debt ceiling has me even more worried.  President Obama deserves plenty of the blame.

President Barack Obama meets with the House and Senate Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House to discuss the budget. Pete Souza/White House

He came into office speaking about a post-partisan era, yet partisan gridlock and petty bickering in Washington are more commonplace than ever.  Obama’s presidency has been a major disappointment. Nothing can change that. He has never woken up to the fact that being president requires reaching across party lines and actually negotiating with people. He’s too busy thinking that he always knows what’s best and that he can charm his way through things. (Well, on both domestic and foreign policy, it appears that isn’t the case).

There is perhaps no other president in history with a greater aversion to talking with members of Congress.  Obama is the loner-in-chief, content to remain aloof while current events and debates pass him by for as long as possible.  Is he really saying that he won’t negotiate regarding the debt ceiling? What could be less presidential than refusing to even have a conversation?

Obama has thrown out red lines before and looked silly for not following through. Given the way he’s handled Syria, this time he might actually follow through on his commitment to not negotiate with Congress – just to demonstrate that he’s still “in charge.”

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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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Obama Wins on Syria

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President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Photo: Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Photo: Carolyn Kaster

Foreign policy hawks, conservatives, Obama-haters and those opposed to a thoughtful approach to U.S. foreign policy are all surely disappointed, if not upset, that President Obama has chosen not to adopt a George W. Bush approach to foreign policy and jump into the Syrian conflict with guns blazing. Many from these groups have called the president’s decision to rope Congress into the decision making process impotent, lacking forcefulness and direction, or making America look weak. I disagree. What the president has done is the opposite of all those things.

Whatever happens next — whether Congress approves or disapproves of a military strike on Syria — the President wins by having resisted the urge to rush into a decision and by ensuring that Congress owns the next step.  A variety of U.S. allies — in the Middle East and elsewhere — may have been disappointed by this approach, but I say to them “too bad.” Perhaps it is they who are the things the president’s critics accuse him of. If France, Turkey or another country want to criticize the U.S. if it chooses not to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons on August 21st, let them act unilaterally.

Of course, they will not. They look to America to take the lead — whether in Afghanistan or Kosovo. Some of America’s allies in the region are ill at ease with the recent turn of events. Well, the U.S. is ill at ease about what is going on in their neighborhood. What are they doing about it — apart from taking sides and fanning the flames?

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Obama’s Grand Bargain, GOP’s Last Chance at Tax Reform

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President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at the Amazon Chattanooga Fulfillment Center in Chattnooga, Tenn., July 30, 2013.  Mark Humphrey/AP

Republican lawmakers feeling stung by the last agreement they made with the White House – which saw tax rates rise on the richest Americans – have spurned the White House’s latest offer of a “grand bargain”.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at the Amazon Chattanooga Fulfillment Center in Chattnooga, Tenn., July 30, 2013. Mark Humphrey/AP

President Obama’s proposal is to concede to lowering the corporate tax rate, closing tax loopholes, and eliminating some deductions, and, in return, the revenue generated would be applied to infrastructure and transportation projects, thus creating jobs for middle-class workers. “I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs,” Obama said in a campaign style event in Chattanooga, Tenn. “That’s the deal.”

The White House’s tone about the debt-ceiling debate has become less conciliatory over the years. In the lead up to the 2011 vote, President Obama argued that the United States has “a system of government in which everybody has to give a little bit.” Now in his second term and exhausted from a string of domestic and international issues, the White House has declared: “With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop. Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires.”

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Iran’s Inroads in Latin America

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

It is as comical as it is untrue. But “The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act,” which as of Dec. 28 is an official US law, is not meant to be amusing. It is riddled with half-truths, but mostly complete and utter lies. Yes, Iran’s influence in Latin America is on the rise. However, by US standards, the expanding diplomatic ties, extending trade routes and such are considered a threat to be ‘countered’ or per Forbes magazine’s endless wisdom, ‘confronted.’

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Jon Huntsman to State?

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Jon Huntsman, former U.S. Ambassador to China. Photo: Natalie Behring

Jon Huntsman, former U.S. Ambassador to China. Photo: Natalie Behring

In light of Susan Rice’s less-than stellar coming out party as a possible nominee to replace Hillary Clinton at State, the Obama administration would do well to find a consensus candidate. Among those mentioned, the one that seems the most obvious is Jon Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China until he stepped down to run for the GOP presidential nomination only to come in 3rd in New Hampshire. Al Gore, the soon to be former Sen. Richard Lugar, Colin Powell and a smattering of other former policymakers and politicos have also been mentioned as possible nominees to replace Clinton.

The problem for President Obama is that the person he most likely prefers, Ambassador Susan Rice, has turned out to be a lemon. She’s antagonized a number of key Senators whose support the administration would need in order to confirm her. Internationally, Russia has already voiced its preference for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) over Susan Rice to replace Clinton.

At the outset a Huntsman nomination would pose a risk of alienating Rice’s supporters [those remaining on Capitol Hill] but in the end they would defer to the president’s decision. However, support for Rice could soon erode on Capitol Hill as more lawmakers become aware of a possible conflict of interest should she become the next Secretary of State. Rice holds $600,000 of shares in TransCanada. According to Politico, “Potential Secretary of State candidate Susan Rice holds as much as $600,000 of shares in TransCanada, the company seeking State Department approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline.”

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Rethinking U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation

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U.S. National Guard and Border Patrol Agents survey the U.S.-Mexico border

Since Felipe Calderón came into office in 2006, security links between the U.S. and Mexico have gotten noticeably stronger, the Mérida Initiative being the most obvious example of this. Funding under this program will almost certainly continue next year.

U.S. National Guard and Border Patrol Agents survey the U.S.-Mexico border

Since “Mérida assistance” is costing the U.S. government hundreds of millions of dollars a year, now would be an appropriate time to ascertain whether this is the best use of taxpayer money, or whether it promotes human rights or has even been effectual. If the deficit is the preeminent threat to national security, security cooperation around the globe must be reexamined. Calderón was elected (barely) into office by running a campaign that focused on tackling Mexican drug trafficking and startling levels of violence, both of which persist to this day. It is the way he went about achieving these objectives that has been worrisome. All reliable indicators (including recent polling) indicate that Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) will be the country’s next president.

There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that it will not even be a close race. The idea that a PRI presidency would somehow compromise U.S. security as it relates to the “war on drugs” is unconvincing. After all, this is based on two fallacies, first that the U.S. (or Mexico) has recently been winning the drug war. And second, that anyone with any power in Washington or Mexico City these past few years has had the right strategy to begin with. Calderón has clearly failed in his effort to combat drug violence. The Mexican military belongs in the barracks, not the streets.

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U.S.-Pakistan Relations Going Forward after Mullen’s Remarks

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DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

America’s diplomatic ties with Pakistan have further deteriorated following critical statements made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen earlier last week. In his testimony before a Sept. 22 Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, Admiral Mullen called out Pakistan’s shadowy Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) for its long-suspected ties to terrorists networks in the region, purporting that the country’s intelligence wing has directly supported recent insurgent attacks on US targets in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani based out of Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was a key ally to the United States during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980’s, is quickly becoming the most obvious threat to US interests in the region and US officials claim to have evidence of their involvement in recent high-profile attacks.

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