Senate Republicans this week continued their challenge of the Obama administration by citing and exploiting vulnerabilities in several key nominees for the second term. The attacks created delays or expected close votes on three important nominees as Treasury and Defense secretaries, and as CIA director.
A senate vote Feb. 14 failed to end a filibuster against the nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to become Defense Secretary. Those cloture motion narrowly failed on the eve of incumbent Secretary Leon Panetta's resignation. The senate begins a 10-day recess Feb. 16. Hagel's nomination may still overcome opposition if he and the president stand firm. Rejection would be an unprecedented humiliation for Hagel and the president, and perhaps also embarrass Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because he gutted filibuster reform last month after touting a deal with Republicans.
Another attack by Republicans centered on a $945,000 bonus that Treasury nominee Jack Lew, above left, received following a brief stint of work for Citibank. Lew is White House chief of staff.
Update: Lew was confirmed on Feb. 27. Earlier in the week, the New York Times reported: Obama’s Treasury Nominee Got Unusual Exit Bonus on Leaving N.Y.U. , The paper reported that Lew received a $685,000 severance payment when he left a top post at New York University in 2006 to take a job at Citigroup. The payment, which a university official acknowledged on Monday, is considered unusual by outside experts in benefits and raises questions about why a tax-exempt university would give a large exit bonus to an executive who was departing voluntarily.
Separately, senate Democrats postponed for two weeks a confirmation vote for CIA nominee John Brennan following Republican demands that he provide more information about the administration's drone warfare program. Brennan is White House counter-terrorism chief after 25 years working at the CIA.
Republicans have voiced several complaints about their former colleague, Hagel, at right, the first enlisted man wounded in combat ever nominated for the defense secretary post.
As part of the opposition to Hagel, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, has demanded that the White House provide evidence of how President Obama spent his evening last fall on Sept. 11 after militants attacked a United States installation in Libya and killed four Americans.
The real reasons for opposition to Hagel appear to center on his reduced support for U.S. combat troops in Iraq before his retirement from the senate in 2009. The Armed Services Committee approved him this week 14-11 on a party-line vote, which one Republican missed. Neo-conservatives have furiously worked behind-the-scenes to thwart Hagel, in part by creating transparently phony side issues, such as criticism of an anti-gay comment Hagel made long ago.
Hagel's confirmation has become a memorable battle, in part because many of his opponents are strongly pro-war while always having avoided themselves the kind of sacrifice Hagel exhibited. Hagel, from modest means in Nebraska, was seriously wounded two times in Vietnam after enlisting with his brother, Thomas. They were not only a rare combination of siblings in the same combat unit, but they also saved each others' lives.
Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, announced Feb. 13 that 60 votes would be required to approve Hagel's nomination because Republicans planned to filibuster. Last month, Reid agreed with Republicans to gut filibuster reform, claiming that senators would avoid abuses in the future. The Reid decision in cooperation along with his "Blue Dog" conservative constituency is part of a developing body of evidence that Congress increasingly seeks logjams. The purpose appears to be to extract more donations from lobbyists, PACs, and plutocrats because they must lobby continually these days because of a never-ending crisis atmosphere.
Reid failed to achieve filibuster reform this session after promising it, thereby endangering Hagel's nomination and much of the rest of Obama's agenda for the next term. Confirmations require only a majority vote. Republican use of filibuster on routine measures is a recent development.
No nominee to become secretary of defense has ever previously been filibustered or rejected on policy grounds by the senate since the office was renamed in the 1940s from "secretary of war" to its present title.
All 55 Democrats and independents are expected to vote to confirm Hagel. Three Republicans have voiced support so far. Two former Republican senators, Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia, introduced Hagel with their strong support at his confirmation hearing in January.
Republican Armed Services Committee ranking member James Imhofe of Oklahoma this week threatened a filibuster against Hagel. Imhofe said he suspected Iranian support for Hagel, but the senator failed to cite evidence.
Hagel irked Republicans beginning in 2005 by comparing the Iraq War to the Vietnam War. In 2008, he criticized the war policy of his fellow Republican and prospective GOP presidential nominee John McCain, as described in a news report that year, Chuck Hagel Takes On McCain, Repeatedly Praises Obama. Hagel declined to endorse McCain in the presidential election or to run for re-election. Upon retirement in 2009, Hagel became a professor at Georgetown University, chairman of the Atlantic Council, and co-chair of Obama's Presidential Advisory Board of Foreign Intelligence.
More generally, the Republican attacks on Obama's nominees illustrate that their implacable opposition to the president continues from the first term despite the president's decisive re-election victory in November.
The opposition has ironic elements: The most seriously endangered nominee is Hagel, the Republican who compiled a generally conservative record in the Senate (including on the Foreign Relations Committee) before he criticized the Iraq War. Hagel's comments generated fierce opposition by the nation's neo-conservatives. Those advocates, and their allied war contractors and Wall Street financiers, are highly influential with the news media and senators from both parties.
GOP resistance to Lew and Brennan has unusual twists. Seldom previously have Republicans begrudged a nominee for private sector earnings. Lew is shown at right with President Obama and incumbent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Lew would follow a long line of cabinet secretaries of great wealth often acquired in questionable circumstances. Obama is reported ready to nominate as Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a billionaire, further enhancing that tradition, as illustrated in a new report excerpted below.
The questions to Brennan on the drone program are ironic also in that the Senate has otherwise abdicated its responsibility under the Constitution to make declarations of war. The senate has instead increasingly allowed presidents to undertake hostilities wherever they want, with occasional and minimal of notice to senate leaders. Holding Brennan to account smacks of partisan sniping, given the long-term pattern.
On the other hand, each of vulnerabilities identified by the Republicans -- aside from Hagel's -- appear to this editor to have a solid basis of concern. Lew's bonus via the revolving-door and Brennan's role at the White House designating targets to be killed by drones overseas without trial each raise deeply disturbing issues. Several excerpts below from news stories amplify those issues. Congressional reformer Lawrence Lessig, for example, raises the additional point that obstruction by do-nothing congressional representatives is part of their ongoing tactic to extract more funds by keeping the nation in constant turmoil with no meaningful resolution of problems.
The confirmation battles symbolize other congressional hypocrisy. Republicans complained that Hagel once a negative comment about a gay man. This contrasts with the support of the supposed victim for Hagel's confirmation. Relevant also, but never mentioned in the mainstream press, is the widely reputed gay lifestyle of a significant number of Republicans and staff in Washington, coupled with their pervasive anti-gay rhetoric to confuse conservative voters back home.
Disregarding bogus issues, reasons to question Hagel on his background have not yet surfaced in the senate debate. He has made negligible disclosure of his work in the election machine industry. Elected representatives and mainstream political reporters dare not touch those issues, as indicated by our column last month about NBC White House Correspondent and Chief Political Analyst Chuck Todd. We shall explore Hagel's role next week in this space following the senate vote Feb. 15, win or lose. In the meantime, his most recent Senate financial disclosure forms, dated 2009, are available at the research site LegiStorm. Available public materials appear to be more extensive, albeit more dated, than at the Office of Governmental Ethics site for nominees.
Meanwhile, billionaire Warren Buffett has agreed to pay 20% above market price via his Berkshire Hathaway holding company and another partner to buy the Heinz food company for $28 billion. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, have significant stakes in the company reported as at least $3 million. She inherited it after the death in a plane crash of her first husband, then-Republican Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania.
On a lighter political note, a humorist assembled a slow-motion video, linked below, of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio reaching for a glass of water during his now-famous rebuttal to Obama's State of the Union address this week.
Legal Schnauzer, Joe Biden Provides Hope That Obama White House Finally Will Get Serious About The Siegelman Case, Roger Shuler, Feb. 13, 2013. The Obama administration's performance on justice issues has been dismal so far, but Vice President Joe Biden recently provided a glimmer of hope that the White House might be starting to get serious. And that could have an impact on the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, which generally is seen as the most blatant political prosecution in U.S. history.
Deadspin, Let’s All Watch Marco Rubio’s Panicked Drink Of Water In Extreme Slow Motion, Feb. 13, 2013.
Related News Coverage
New York Post, DC probes NYU loan arranges, funnelled millions to execs, Geoff Earle and James Covert, March 16, 2013. Senate investigators may be done with Jack Lew, who’s already settling in to his job as treasury secretary — but now they’re training their sights on NYU, demanding the school cough up details on controversial loans and other fat compensation it gave to dozens of other top execs and faculty as well as Lew, The Post has learned. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wants NYU to hand over documents for loans and other perks going back more than a decade, including terms of the cushy packages and how they were calculated. In confirmation hearings last month, Grassley grilled Lew on the $1.4 million loan he got from NYU on top of his more than $800,000 salary in a five-year stint as a top executive that ended in 2006. In an e-mail last week, NYU exec Martin Dorph told school officials that NYU and its law school currently have outstanding loans to 168 people, for
a total of $72 million in loans floated by the university.Now Grassley wants to look into these financial arrangements at the tax-exempt university that receives millions of dollars in federal funds.
New York Times, Obama’s Treasury Nominee Got Unusual Exit Bonus on Leaving N.Y.U., Danny Hakim, Feb. 25, 2013. President Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department, Jacob J. Lew, got a $685,000 severance payment when he left a top post at New York University in 2006 to take a job at Citigroup. The payment, which a university official acknowledged on Monday, is considered unusual by outside experts in benefits and raises questions about why a tax-exempt university would give a large exit bonus to an executive who was departing voluntarily. The payment was not disclosed in the university’s publicly available tax records, and it is receiving scrutiny from Senate Republicans as they consider Mr. Lew’s nomination, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Finance Committee on Tuesday. At the time of his departure, Mr. Lew had been executive vice president at N.Y.U. He had typically earned $700,000 to $800,000 a year since his hiring in 2001, and sometimes more, according to the university’s tax records. John J. McGowan Jr., a partner at the Cleveland firm BakerHostetler who specializes in employee benefit plans, offered a similar assessment. “Why are they doing that when he’s moving on to bigger and better things?” he said. “It’s the type of thing that might raise eyebrows.”
Truthout/Buzzflash, John Brennan Was Number Two at the Bush/Cheney CIA During Renditions, Enhanced Interrogations, and the Iraq War, Mark Karlin, Feb. 21, 2013. Given that we are coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, it is worth noting that President Obama's CIA chief nominee, John Brennan, was a Bush/Cheney man at the top level of the intelligence agency during the post 9/11 period. In 1999 he was appointed chief of staff to George Tenet, then-Director of the CIA. Brennan became deputy executive director of the CIA in March 2001. Remember, this was at a time that Cheney, as vice president, was taking unprecedented trips to CIA headquarters in Virginia to muscle the intelligence officers there to create facts to fit the propaganda justification for invading Iraq. There is no indication that Brennan objected or tried to keep the agency independent of the coercion. More than that, Brennan was a cheerleader for torture and rendition, as Glenn Greenwald noted back in 2008, when he expressed concern about Brennan's role as a national security advisor in the Obama White House: "It simply is noteworthy of comment and cause for concern — though far from conclusive about what Obama will do — that Obama’s transition chief for intelligence policy, John Brennan, was an ardent supporter of torture and one of the most emphatic advocates of FISA expansions and telecom immunity."
New York Times, White House Tactic for C.I.A. Bid Holds Back Drone Memos, Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, Feb. 20, 2013. The administration may deny Senate Democrats information on targeted killings but tell Republicans more about a militant attack in Libya to win confirmation for John O. Brennan as C.I.A. director. Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
FireDogLake, Every Day the Senate Gets More Idiotic: Chuck Hagel Edition, Jon Walker, Feb. 15, 2013. From its anti-democratic design, to its bizarre rules, to the absurd way it is run, the United States Senate is simply a terrible institution. Yet whenever I think my opinion of the chamber can’t get any lower the Senators manage to find a new way to disappoint me. The recent failure of the cloture vote for Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary brings Senate stupidity to a new low. If Hagel was unqualified, possibly involved in scandal, determined to have committed a crime, or even if senators were not given enough time to vet Hagel, blocking his nomination might be reasonable. None of that applies in this case. There has been no real scandal, no indication Hagel could not handle the job, and given that many of the Republican senators voting against him served with him for over a decade, they have had plenty of time to form an opinion. As far as I can determine from Republican statements the reasons they are blocking the appointment of a fellow Republican is because he said mean things to Bush, and they wanted to make the White House do something about a completely unrelated matter. This is not advising or consenting. This is childish grudge-settl;ing and political hostage taking. It is hard to know what is more disgraceful, why the minority chose to block Hagel or the fact that the majority has so pathetically abdicated their role by choosing to needlessly give the minority the power to do something so petty and stupid.
Huffington Post, Chuck Hagel Confirmation: Senate Vote Fails To End Filibuster On Obama Pick, Sabrina Siddiqui, Feb. 14, 2012. Senate Republicans successfully foiled attempts to confirm Chuck Hagel for the post of defense secretary on Thursday, by denying him the 60 votes needed for the nomination to proceed. Democrats ultimately came up short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and end the Republicans' filibuster, with a final vote count of 58 to 40. Republican Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats in their failed effort to end debate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present. The nomination is hardly dead. In fact, it looks increasingly likely that Democrats will be able to muster the needed votes to confirm Hagel's nomination after a 10-day recess.
Roll Call, Hagel Confirmation Fight Revives Debate Over Senate's Filibuster Rules, Niels Lesniewski and Humberto Sanchez, Feb. 14, 2013, The ongoing debate over confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary took a detour Thursday into a partisan disagreement over what constitutes a filibuster. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats said the 58-40 cloture vote, short of the 60 needed to limit debate, represented a filibuster by GOP senators.
Washington Post, Senate Republicans filibuster Hagel nomination, Paul Kane, Feb. 15, 2013. Senate Republicans delivered a sharp rebuke to President Obama on Thursday when they began a filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. The confirmation process stalled Thursday when GOP senators deprived Hagel of the 60 votes needed to move it to its final stages. Republicans said they were seeking a delay so they could look more closely at the nominee.
Washington Post, Senators turn the tables on Caymans investor Jack Lew, Dana Milbank, Feb. 14, 2013. President Obama won reelection in part by beating up on his opponent for receiving big corporate payouts in exchange for dubious work and for socking away money in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. So it’s a bit, well, rich that Obama chose as his new Treasury secretary a man who received a big corporate payout for dubious work and who socked away money in the Cayman Islands.
Washington Post, Hagel confirmation will take 60 votes, Paul Kane, Feb. 13, 2013. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) filed a motion Wednesday to begin the confirmation debate of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, setting up a vote by Friday that would require 60 votes to cut off a potential filibuster by Republicans. Democrats had been hoping to avoid needing a supermajority to clear the confirmation hurdles for Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska whose centrist views on national security drew stern rebukes from his former Senate Republican colleagues during hearings before the Armed Services Committee last week
FireDoglake, GOP Decides to Use Filibuster Power Democrats Gave Them, Jon Walker, Feb. 14, 2013. For the first time ever a Secretary of Defense nominee will be filibustered. Some Senate Republicans are forcing Democrats to go through with the lengthy process of cloture to get a vote on Chuck Hagel. This has apparently given Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) a sad. From NPR: “This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Reid said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.” If only there was a way Reid could have prevented this…oh wait…Democrats had a chance to eliminate or restrict the use of the filibuster last month. Instead, Reid chose to cut a “deal” that gave the Republican minority an effective veto over everything in the chamber. It’s not surprising that after Democrats handed Republicans this incredible power the GOP is choosing to exercise it.
Washington Post, Senators delay vote on Brennan, seek more information about drone campaign, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller, Feb. 14, 2013. A Senate confirmation vote on John O. Brennan, right, as CIA director has been postponed for at least two weeks as lawmakers step up pressure on the Obama administration to provide more information about its drone campaign against terrorism suspects. In particular, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she is seeking seven Justice Department memos related to the administration’s targeted killing program, in addition to four the committee has been allowed to view.
Justice Integrity Project, Riveting Lecture Reveals Election Finance Reform Mess, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 26, 2013. Congressional reform advocate Lawrence Lessig this week delivered a powerful lecture in the nation's capital showing that control of elections by the wealthy is vastly greater than commonly understood. Just 159 wealthy U.S. donors provided as much presidential funding as all small donors combined, according to 2008 statistics that Lessig cited as the most recent available. Lessig a Harvard Law School professor, argued that this small pool of donors essentially decides who is eligible to run for president on the major parties.
Huffington Post, "They Know We Know It." Get Politicians On The Record About Corruption, Lawrence Lessig, left, and Nick Penniman, Feb. 14, 2013. "There's another challenge that we must address and it is the corrupting force of the vast sums of money necessary to run for office. The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself." No, that's not a quote from the President Obama's State of the Union address. But it is from a recent speech by the newest member of his cabinet: John Kerry. We both were struck by Kerry's candidness and eloquence on the matter of money in politics as he gave his farewell address to the Senate, where he has spent the last 28 years of his life. We were so struck, in fact, that we - and our good friends at HuffPost, including Arianna - need your help. We're calling it the On the Record Project. We need to get every member of the House and Senate on the record about the force "that threatens to steal our democracy itself."
Justice Integrity Project, Obama Second-Term Nominees Named, Andrew Kreig, January 11, 2013. President Obama this week nominated experienced close associates to fill three major cabinet posts. In a ceremony Jan. 7, the president introduced former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary. The president picked as CIA director John Brennan, currently the deputy national security advisor. Shown in the White House photo at left, are (from left to right, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Hagel, the president, and Brennan. Separately, Obama picked White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew, right, to become Treasury Secretary, succeeding Timothy Geithner.
Truth-out, Billionaire Burglar Breaks into Obama's Cabinet, Pinch-Penny Pritzker pockets Commerce post, Greg Palast, Feb. 13, 2013. A parade of media reports this week name Penny Pritzker as Obama's prime choice for Secretary of Commerce. Less than three years before taking the presidency, he was in the Illinois state senate, a swamp of scammers, backhanders, and party machine tools -- not a stellar launch pad for the White House. And then, one day, state Sen. Barack Obama was visited by his fairy godmother. Her name is Penny Pritzker. Penny's from Heaven? Pritzger's net worth is listed in Forbes as $1.8 billion, which is one hell of a heavy magic wand in the world of politics. Her wand would have been heavier, and her net worth higher, except that in 2001, the federal government fined her and her family $460 million for the predatory, deceitful, racist tactics and practices of Superior, the bank-and-loan-shark operation she ran on the South Side of Chicago. Superior was the first of the deregulated go-go banks to go bust -- at the time, the costliest failure ever. US taxpayers lost nearly half a billion dollars. Superior's depositors lost millions and poor folk in Sen. Obama's South Side district lost their homes. Penny did not like paying $460 million. No, not one bit. What she needed was someone to give her Hope and Change. She hoped someone would change the banking regulators so she could get away with this crap. Pritzker introduced Obama, the neophyte state senator, to the Ladies Who Lunch (that's really what they call themselves) on Chicago's Gold Coast. Obama got lunch, gold and better -- an introduction to Robert Rubin. Rubin is a former Secretary of the Treasury, former chairman of Goldman Sachs and, when Robert met Barry, co-chairman of Citibank. Even atheists recognized Rubin as the Supreme Deity of Wall Street.
Zero Hedge, Heinz Confirms It Will Be Acquired By Buffett In $28 Billion Transaction At $72.50/Share, Tyler Durden, Feb. 14, 2013. H.J. Heinz Company today announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement to be acquired by an investment consortium comprised of Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital. Under the terms of the agreement, which has been unanimously approved by Heinz’s Board of Directors, Heinz shareholders will receive $72.50 in cash for each share of common stock they own, in a transaction valued at $28 billion, including the assumption of Heinz’s outstanding debt. The per share price represents a 20% premium to Heinz’s closing share price of $60.48 on February 13, 2013, a 19% premium to Heinz’s all-time high share price, a 23% premium to the 90-day average Heinz share price and a 30% premium to the one-year average share price.
Institute for Political Economy, In Amerika Law No Longer Exists: the extermination of truth, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Jan. 31, 2013. In the 21st century, Americans have experienced an extraordinary collapse in the rule of law and in their constitutional protections. Today American citizens, once a free people protected by law, can be assassinated and detained in prison indefinitely without any evidence being presented to a court of their guilt, and they can be sentenced to prison on the basis of secret testimony by anonymous witnesses not subject to cross examination. The US “justice system” has been transformed by the Bush/Obama regime into the ”justice system” of Gestapo Germany and Stalinist Russia. There is no difference. In an article available here. Stephen Downs, formerly chief attorney with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and Kathy Manley, a criminal defense attorney and member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, report on how the US government destroyed a charity, the Holy Land Foundation, which provided money for feeding the poor and for building schools and hospitals in Palestine. What this means for you is that your involvement in legal transactions or associations can be declared ex post facto by secret witnesses to be criminal involvements. The criminality of your past behavior can now be established, according to Downs and Manley, by “anonymous experts,” mouthpieces for the government prosecutors who cannot “be confronted or cross-examined within the meaning of the 6th Amendment.” Downs and Manley write: “The implications are enormous. The government can now criminalize political, religious and social ideology and speech. Donating to peace groups, participating in protests, attending church, mosque or synagogue, entertaining friends, and posting material on the Internet, for example, could later be found to be illegal because of ‘associations,’ manufactured by anonymous experts, which in some way allegedly support designated terrorist organizations one has never heard of.”
FireDogLake, Drones Are a Local Issue, David Swanson, Jan. 31, 2013. I write from Charlottesville, Va., but am hopeful that this message applies to your city, town, or county as well. In the absence of state or federal laws, localities around the United States are proceeding to put unmanned aerial vehicles in our skies as they see fit. The federal government has authorized the flight of 30,000 drones, and the use of drones up to 400 feet by police departments, at least 300 of which already have surveillance drones in operation. States and localities can ban or regulate such actions. Or they can proceed to endanger our health and our civil rights.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Washington Post, A different kind of black-and-white issue, Colbert I. King, Feb. 23, 2013. This week I received an e-mail with the subject line: “Please Colbert, write about Jesse Jackson Jr. and father.” It was a racial taunt, perhaps best ignored. The writer chose to view the fall of Jesse Jackson Jr. (at left) through the lens of race, ignoring how widespread the conduct he deplored has become. Public figures fathering a child out of marriage? The e-mailer failed to mention former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R); former senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards; Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.); former New York representative Vito Fossella (R); the late Republican senator Strom Thurmond, a former presidential candidate; or former New Mexico senator Pete Domenici (R) — all of whom did what Jesse Jackson Sr. had done. Misconduct while in public office? The list of violators is endless and spans the racial and religious spectra.
Washington Post, U.S. tech giant named to South Korean Cabinet faces hitch over CIA ties, Thomas Heath, Feb. 23, 2013. He is a scientist and ultra-wealthy, a low-key Navy veteran who could pass unnoticed at a Wizards or Caps game but who happens to be a part owner of both teams. Now Jeong H. Kim, 52, may be about to add another line to his glittering résumé: Cabinet secretary in South Korea, where incoming president Park Geun-hye has tapped him to run the ministry of science and technology. But there is a hitch. Kim’s diverse background also happens to include time working with the Central Intelligence Agency. Now this unassuming Potomac resident is not only becoming a household name half a world away, but he is also setting off a political firestorm there. As president of Bell Labs, Kim developed an advisory relationship with the CIA. In-Q-Tel, where he served as a director, helps the CIA maintain relationships with tech start-ups whose products can help the intelligence community. He also served on the External Advisory Board, an informal group of advisers that counsels the CIA’s top leaders oninteractions with businesses and the public. Other members have included former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, investment banker Vernon Jordan and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers.
Guardian, Obama DOJ again refuses to tell a court whether CIA drone program even exists, Glenn Greenwald, Feb. 14, 2013. The Obama DOJ again tells a court that it cannot safely confirm or deny the existence of the CIA drone program. It is not news that the US government systematically abuses its secrecy powers to shield its actions from public scrutiny, democratic accountability, and judicial review. But sometimes that abuse is so extreme, so glaring, that it is worth taking note of, as it reveals its purported concern over national security to be a complete sham. Such is the case with the Obama DOJ's behavior in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the CIA to compel a response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about Obama's CIA assassination program. That FOIA request seeks nothing sensitive, but rather only the most basic and benign information about the "targeted killing" program: such as "the putative legal basis for carrying out targeted killings; any restrictions on those who may be targeted; any civilian casualties; any geographic limits on the program; the number of targeted killings that the agency has carried out."
Associated Press/Washington Post, AP Exclusive: Documents sketch close dealings of Nixon, Clinton, on Russia, foreign affairs, Feb. 14, 2013. In the final months of his life, Richard Nixon quietly advised President Bill Clinton on navigating the post-Cold War world, even offering to serve as a conduit for messages to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other government officials, newly declassified documents show. Memos and other records show Nixon’s behind-the-scenes relations with the Clinton White House. The documents are part of an exhibit opening Friday at the Nixon Presidential Library, marking the centennial of his birth. Clinton has talked often of his gratitude to Nixon for his advice on foreign affairs, particularly Russia. In a video that will be part of the exhibit, Clinton recalls receiving a letter from the 37th president shortly before his death on April 22, 1994, at a time when Clinton was assessing U.S. relations "in a world growing ever more interdependent and yet ungovernable." At right, Richard Nixon meets Bill Clinton at the White House in 1994 (Richard Nixon Foundation Photo).
Huffington Post, False Spontaneity of the Tea Party, Al Gore, Feb. 14, 2013. A new study by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Medicine reveals that the Tea Party Movement was planned over a decade ago by groups with ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. The movement was not a spontaneous populist uprising, but rather a long-term strategy to promote the anti-science, anti-government agenda of powerful corporate interests. The two organizations mentioned in the report, Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, used to be a single organization that was founded by the Koch brothers and heavily financed by the tobacco industry. These organizations began planning the Tea Party Movement over ten years ago to promote a common agenda that advocated market fundamentalism over science and opposed any regulation or taxation of fossil fuels and tobacco products. The disturbing history of links between market fundamentalists, the tobacco industry and the Tea Party movement is part of an even larger trend that I describe in my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Following the era of Progressive and New Deal reforms that restrained corporate influence in American politics following the infamous Robber Baron Era, market fundamentalists were once again motivated and radicalized by the social turbulence of the 1960s. In 1971, a prominent lawyer for the tobacco industry, Lewis Powell, wrote a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that presented a comprehensive plan aimed at shifting the balance of political power in favor of corporations. President Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court just two months later.
Huffington Post, Law Enforcement Alliance Of America, NRA Front-Group, Spends Millions To Elect Pro-Gun Judges, Christina Wilkie, Feb. 14, 2013. The National Rifle Association has spent more than $2 million to fund a group that helps elect conservative pro-gun judges and state attorneys general, people likely to rule in court and try cases that will be favorable to the gun lobbying interests. The group is called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), and details of the NRA's funding are laid out in a new report issued Thursday by the nonprofit Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank. The LEAA does not disclose its donors, but CAP researchers analyzed NRA tax returns and public records to determine that the group was founded in 1991 with money from the NRA, and has received a steady stream of payments from the nation's largest gun lobbying group ever since. The report found that the LEAA also has received money from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Washington Post, Obama's proposed voting commission under partisan fire from both sides, Nia-Malika Henderson and Felicia Sonmez, Feb. 14, 2013. Some conservatives see initiative as federal overreach; some voting rights advocates say plan is too timid.
Washington Post, I killed people in Afghanistan. Was I right or wrong? Timothy Kudo, Jan. 25, 2013. When I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I would kill people. I was trained to do it in a number of ways, from pulling a trigger to ordering a bomb strike to beating someone to death with a rock. As I got closer to deploying to war in 2009, my lethal abilities were refined, but my ethical understanding of killing was not.I held two seemingly contradictory beliefs: Killing is always wrong, but in war, it is necessary. How could something be both immoral and necessary?
Guardian/OpEd News, Italy's Ex-Intelligence Chief Given 10-Year Sentence For Role In CIA Kidnapping, Glenn Greenwald, Feb. 13, 2013. To see just how extreme the US "culture of impunity" is, consider the extraordinary 2003 kidnapping by the CIA of the Muslim cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (Abu Omar), from the streets of Milan. Nasr, who in 2001 had been granted asylum by Italy from persecution in Egypt, was abducted by the CIA and then shipped back to Egypt where he was imprisoned for four years without charges and, he says, brutally tortured by America's long-standing ally, the Mubarak regime. Der Spiegel described just what a standard kidnapping it was: Nasr "was seized in broad daylight on the open street, pushed into a white van, taken to the Aviano military airport and then flown to Egypt via the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany." Yesterday, an Italian appellate court sentenced the country's former intelligence chief, Niccolo Pollari, to 10 years in prison "for complicity" in that kidnapping. In other words, not only did the CIA kidnap Nasr and deliberately send him to an allied regime notorious for torture -- a serious crime no matter who he was -- but, as it turns out, he was guilty of absolutely nothing. What made him a kidnapping target was that, according to the New York Times, his "anti-American speeches and calls to jihad were resonating with young Muslim men who were attending his Islamic center." Yesterday's 10-year sentence was based on a 2010 finding by an Italian judge that "the Italian secret service was most likely aware of, 'and perhaps complicit in,' the operation." In 2009, an Italian criminal court found 23 individual CIA agents (including the Milan station chief, Robert Lady) guilty of kidnapping and other crimes, but was forced to try them in absentia because the US (first under Bush and then Obama) pressured the Italian government to suppress extradition requests issued by Italian courts to compel those CIA agents to travel to Italy to stand trial. This entire case reveals vital facts about the culture of impunity for high-level officials that prevails in the US even when they commit the most egregious crimes.
Huffington Post, Obama's Voting Reform Plan All Pomp, Little Circumstance, Jason Linkins, Feb. 16, 2013. It's now pretty much an historical fact that the road to President Barack Obama's re-election ended up running a lot smoother than the hyped-up punditocracy had predicted in advance of Election Day. That is, at least from the perspective of the candidate and his campaign functionaries. Closer to ground-level, Election Day was anything but smooth for large swathes of the electorate, who in many cases encountered long lines, late nights, the usual widespread confusion, or some combination of all three.
Huffington Post Live, Obama's Voting #Fail, Jacob Soboroff and Alyona Minkovski, Feb. 13, 2013 (7-minute video). The President talked voting rights during the SOTU, but he failed to impress Elisabeth MacNamara, President of the League of Women Voters of the U.S., who joins us.