In the USA....Edward Snowden's father says FBI asked him to fly to Moscow
Lon Snowden says his son will be 'treated horribly' if he returns to US and in his place he would stay in Russia
James Meikle and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 12.21 BST
The father of the whistleblower Edward Snowden has said the FBI tried to persuade him to fly to Moscow so that he could encourage his son to return to the United States.
"I said: 'I want to be able to speak with my son … Can you set up communications?' and it was 'Well, we are not sure,'" Lon Snowden told the Washington Post. "I said: 'Wait a minute, folks, I'm not going to sit on the tarmac to be an emotional tool for you.'"
Snowden's father, who is retired from the US Coast Guard, also said he preferred Edward to remain in Russia, where he is stuck in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport while Russia considers his request for temporary asylum.
"If he comes back to the United States, he is going to be treated horribly. He is going to be thrown into a hole. He is not going to be allowed to speak." The 52-year-old said he had been as "surprised as the rest of America" when his son, who worked for a contractor, was revealed as the source of the leaks about surveillance by the National Security Agency to the Guardian. "As a father it pains me what he did," Snowden said. "I wish my son could simply have sat in Hawaii and taken the big paycheck, lived with his beautiful girlfriend and enjoyed paradise. But as an American citizen, I am absolutely thankful for what he did."
Lon Snowden said that two days after Edward was revealed as the whistleblower, FBI agents had arrived at his home outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had spoken to them for four hours and shared emails he had exchanged with his son. Later the FBI asked him to fly to Moscow. FBI officials declined to comment on why negotiations about the idea foundered, the Post said.
As to why Lon Snowden had not flown to Moscow himself, he said: "Sure, I could get on a flight tomorrow to Russia. I'm not sure if I could get access to Edward." He said he had communicated with his son through intermediaries.
In an interview with the state-owned Rossiya 24 TV, the older Snowden, his words translated into Russian, said he had yet to decline the idea of travelling to Moscow at the FBI's request, but would first like to know what the agency wanted him to do. "If [Edward] wants to spend the rest of his life in Russia, I would agree. I am not against it. If I were in his place, I would stay in Russia, and I hope Russia will accept him."
He did not think his son would get a fair trial in the US. "I hope that he will return home and appear in court … But I don't expect that … a court would be fair. We cannot guarantee a fair court." He also thanked Vladimir Putin and his government for the "courage" they had shown in keeping his son safe. Lon Snowden also addressed his son, saying: "Your family is well and we love you. We hope you are healthy, we hope you are well, I hope to see you soon, but most of all I want you to be safe." He added: "I want you to find safe haven. I know the last 55 days have been very difficult."
Anatoly Kuchera, a Russian lawyer helping Edward Snowden, told the programme he thought the asylum request would be granted "in the coming days" and the US had not sent an official request for extradition. "Just saying 'hand him over' is absolutely dishonourable and incorrect," he said.
**********Senators strongly criticise intelligence chiefs over NSA data collection
Ron Wyden tells US senate of 'violations of court orders' while Mark Udall calls for major reforms of surveillance programmes
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 01.33 BST
On the eve of a major US Senate hearing on the National Security Agency's bulk surveillance, two senators called for major reforms of the NSA's collection of phone records and accused US intelligence leaders of misleading the public about its impact on privacy.
A letter sent by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator for Oregon, on Friday said that there had been "a number of compliance problems" with the NSA's bulk, ongoing collection of millions of Americans' phone records, but "no findings of any intentional or bad-faith violations".
On the Senate floor late on Tuesday afternoon, Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, all but accused Clapper of lying.
Citing classified documents that he did not specify, but referring to "violations of court orders", Wyden said that "these violations are more serious than those stated by the intelligence community, and are troubling". Wyden urged senators to read classified intelligence documents about the bulk surveillance for themselves.
"Any policymaker who simply defers to intelligence officials without asking to see their evidence is making a mistake," Wyden warned.
Clapper has already apologised for untruthfully testifying during a March Senate colloquy with Wyden that the NSA does "not wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans. Representatives for Clapper did not immediately return a request for comment on Wyden's accusation.
"The violations I've touched on tonight are a lot more serious than [senators] have been told," Wyden said. "I'm going to keep pressing to make more of these details public."
Wyden's frequent partner on the intelligence committee, Mark Udall, a Democratic senator for Colorado, called on the White House for a "more effective, less intrusive" way to collect phone records related to national security.
"Conduct the program instead through direct queries to phone companies where there is a direct connection to terrorism and espionage," Udall urged on the Senate floor.
Like Wyden, Udall criticised intelligence leaders and their political allies for saying the bulk phone-records collection had helped to stop terrorists.
"I have seen no evidence that the bulk phone-records collection alone played a meaningful role, or any role, in disrupting terrorist plots," Udall said.
It may be "more convenient" for the NSA to conduct a phone-records dragnet, Udall said, but "convenience alone cannot justify" the effort.
Udall also briefly said that the NSA phone-records programme includes the "who, what, where, when and how long" of Americans' phone calls – seemingly a reference to NSA tracking location data on phone calls, which a number of intelligence officials, including Clapper in his letter, have said they do not perform "under this programme".
"Information on whom [Americans] call, when they call, and where they call from is private information," Udall said.
A Udall spokesman clarified that the Senator was not talking about cellular-site tracking, but more about landline location.
Citing the razor-thin margin by which the NSA's bulk phone-records collection survived a vote last week in the House of Representatives, Wyden and Udall vowed to continue their push to curtail the programme.
"Make no mistake about it … we are going to stay at this," Wyden said.
On Wednesday morning, the Senate judiciary committee will hold its first hearing into the NSA programmes, with anticipated testimony from senior officials from the justice department and NSA. The committee is chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) who, alone among committee chairmen in the Senate and House, is vocally in favour of shutting the bulk collection down. Ahead of the hearing, the Obama administration is considering declassifying more secret documents from the Fisa court explaining how the bulk collection is conducted. The Los Angeles Times reported that one of those documents under consideration is a 2007 Fisa court order governing the rules for bulk phone-records collection.
**********U.S. to declassify documents on NSA spy programs
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:09 EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy agencies plan to release newly declassified documents as early as this week about the National Security Agency surveillance programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, and also material related to a secret intelligence court, a U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.
The declassified documents were intended to provide the public more information about the programs as part of a commitment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for greater transparency, the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The documents would also include information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the official said. That court operates in secrecy in making decisions on government surveillance requests.
General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, said he was glad the government was taking action to declassify more information.
“I think it is the right thing. I think it helps articulate what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it,” he told Reuters in Las Vegas where he is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference of cybersecurity experts on Wednesday.
“I think the more we can give to the American people, the better. We always have to balance security of the nation with transparency. But in this case I think it is a good thing,” Alexander said.
Snowden’s release of information about the NSA surveillance programs to American and European media outlets sparked an uproar over revelations last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected data on phone calls and other communications of Americans and foreign citizens as a tool for fighting terrorism.
The move to declassify more information about the surveillance programs, which intelligence officials say have helped thwart terrorist attacks, comes as some lawmakers seek curbs in response to privacy concerns.
Snowden has been charged under the U.S. Espionage Act and is stuck at an airport in Russia while seeking asylum in a country that will not hand him over to the United States.
(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Jim Finkle in Las Vegas; Editing by Andrew Hay and Mohammad Zargham)
07/31/2013 01:38 AMUS Shows No Mercy: Bradley Manning Convicted
By Sebastian Fischer in Fort Meade, Maryland
A US military court acquitted Bradley Manning of the worst charge against him, but he isn't out of the woods yet.
Before reading out the verdict she held in her hands, Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, peered out at the court room once again, looking at the prosecutors, the defense and, of course, at Bradley Manning, the diminutive 25-year-old who sat next to his brawny lawyer David Coombs. It would take a while, Lind said, as she prepared to read out the 22 charges. She then adjusted her glasses and commenced.
Yet after only about five minutes, the military judge was done. Things began pretty well for WikiLeaks informant Manning as he listened to his conviction on Tuesday, but by the end it was agonizingly painful.
The first and most serious charge against Manning was that of aiding the enemy. In theory, the death penalty can be applied in such convictions, but the government had only demanded life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole. Just life imprisonment. Manning stood. The judge looked at him and read, "Not guilty." Manning made an effort not to show any emotion, just as he had done for the past eight weeks of his trial.
Then Lind proceeded, reading out one verdict after the other. "Guilty," she said. "Guilty, guilty, guilty." In the end, it was a word Manning heard on a total of 20 out of 22 charges. Guilty of espionage, guilty of theft, guilty of computer fraud. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
Responding to the conviction, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage'."
Manning's family also issued a statement. "While we are obviously disappointed in today's verdicts," they wrote. "We are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America's enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform."
140 Years in Prison
Most of the offenses carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. For some of them he would face only two years. Taken together, though, he could face around 140 years in prison -- the maximum possible sentence. In the coming weeks, the exact sentence will be negotiated at the military court at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland. Witnesses will be called to testify once again. Manning's defense attorney appeared hopeful after the acquittal on the charge of aiding the enemy.
"We won the battle," Coombs said, "now we need to go win the war. Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire." It sounds like victory. But is it?
It's clear what messages the judge is seeking to send in this trial of the largest betrayal of secrets in American history.
The first is that no mercy will be shown for whistleblowers. The United States is pursuing and treating whistleblowers as traitors. The Manning ruling is intended to have a deterrent effect for others who might seek to follow in his footsteps.
The second is that Lind stopped short of creating a precedent for the erosion of press freedom in the US.
If the court had convicted Manning on charges of aiding the enemy, it would have equated publishing stories about the documents in the media with aiding the enemy. Prior to Manning's verdict, Daniel Ellsberg -- who once leaked the Pentagon Papers to prove the sheer hopelessness of the Vietnam War -- offered some insight. "The idea that you can execute someone for an offense that had no element of intent or even specified effect," he told the Christian Science Monitor, "or that you can face life in prison or death simply from informing an enemy or potential enemy in the process of informing fellow citizens for their benefit is potentially a lethal blow to the First Amendment or freedom of speech and the press."
Last Friday, Manning's defense attorney Coombs sought to portray the difference between leaking data to the public and the enemy in this way: If, for example, you leak a troop movement from point A to point B at a certain time, then the enemy can only profit from this information if it is received directly. If the information is passed on to the public, then that troop movement will most certainly not happen because the enemy will obviously have access to that information as well.
Crackdown on Whistleblowers
Still, the fact that Manning wasn't convicted of aiding the enemy in no way diminishes the massive pressure that US President Barack Obama has applied on the media and potential future whistleblowers. Recently, James Risen, an investigative reporter with the New York Times, was ordered by a federal court to testify against a confidential CIA source -- with the threat of imprisonment if he refused to do so. Risen said he would go to jail if necessary to protect his source. Presently, the US is prosecuting six different people on allegations that they betrayed government secrets -- more than under any previous president.
Nevertheless, there have been some significant shortcomings in Manning's defense. During the Manning trial, Coombs failed in his strategy of seeking to paint a portrait of the 25-year-old as a whistleblower who did so for moral reasons, as a "humanist." Coombs repeatedly depicted his client as "young, naïve, but good intentioned." What Manning had done, he said, "is not anti-patriotic. That is something that is not anti-American. That really is what America is about -- that we take everybody."
But the prosecutor, Major Ashden Fein sought to portray Manning as a traitor out of vanity, as a soldier for whom neither the pledge of allegiance or the flag meant anything. Manning was no whistleblower, he argued -- he instead repeatedly claimed that Manning was a hacker and a traitor.
Manning confessed early on, back in February, that he had leaked the documents to WikiLeaks. He admitted to 10 lesser charges, knowing he would likely be sentenced to around 20 years in prison. It was a futile move, though, and he could now face decades behind bars.
Far away in Moscow, Edward Snowden is likely following the headlines very closely.
************Julian Assange expects Bradley Manning to appeal ‘dangerous’ verdict
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:38 EDT
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday called US soldier Bradley Manning a “hero” and said he expected him to appeal after a military judge convicted him of espionage.
Assange said the verdict had set a “dangerous precedent” and was an example of “national security extremism” from the Obama administration.
He told journalists at a small press conference in London’s Ecuadorian embassy that he “expects that the case will be appealed.”
“Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions and induced democratic reforms,” he argued.
“He is the most important journalistic source the world has ever seen.”
Assange, who has been holed up in the embassy since June last year in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex claims, said Manning was “unquestionably heroic.”
He accused Obama of betrayal over his treatment of “whistleblowers” and insisted Manning’s crimes had no victim except “the US government’s wounded pride.”
The administration’s “attacks on Bradley Manning are not a sign of strength but a sign of weakness,” he added.
He drew comparisons with former CIA operative Edward Snowden, who is currently wanted in the US over another security leak, praising the pair for “willing to risk their liberty and possibly their lives” to bring information to the public.
In all, Manning was found guilty of 20 of 22 counts related to his leaking of a huge trove of secret US diplomatic cables, government records and military logs to the WikiLeaks website.
***********The Bradley Manning verdict is still bad news for the press
By Dan Gillmor, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 15:56 EDT
Dan Gillmor: The Obama administration’s war on leaks and, by extension, the work of investigative reporters, has been unrelenting
The American journalism trade is breathing a collective – but premature and, in many cases, grossly hypocritical – sigh of relief today. A military judge has found Bradley Manning guilty of many crimes, but “aiding the enemy” isn’t one of them.
Had the judge found Manning guilty of aiding the enemy, she would have set a terrible precedent. For the first time, an American court – albeit a military court – would have said it was a potentially capital crime simply to give information to a news organization, because in the internet era an enemy would ultimately have been able to read what was leaked.
However, if journalism dodged one figurative bullet, it faces many more in this era. The ever-more-essential field of national security journalism was already endangered. It remains so. The Obama administration’s war on leaks and, by extension, the work of investigative reporters who dare to challenge the most secretive government in our lifetimes, has been unrelenting.
The Manning verdict had plenty of bad news for the press. By finding Manning guilty of five counts of espionage, the judge endorsed the government’s other radical theories, and left the journalism organization that initially passed along the leaks to the public, Wikileaks, no less vulnerable than it had been before the case started. Anyone who thinks Julian Assange isn’t still a target of the US Government hasn’t been paying attention; if the US can pry him loose from Ecuador’s embassy in London and extradite him, you can be certain that he’ll face charges, too, and the Manning verdict will be vital to that case.
The military tried its best to make life difficult for journalists covering the Manning trial, but activists – not traditional journalists – were the ones who fought restrictions most successfully. Transcripts weren’t provided by the government, for example. Only when the Freedom of the Press Foundation crowd-sourced a court stenographer did the public get a record, however flawed, of what was happening.
That public included most of the press, sad to say. Only a few American news organizations (one is the Guardian’s US edition) bothered to staff the Manning trial in any serious way. Independent journalists did most of the work, and did it as well as it could be done under the circumstances.
The overwhelmingly torpid coverage of this trial by traditional media has been yet another scandal for the legacy press, which still can’t seem to wrap its collective brain around the importance of the case, and especially its wider context. National security journalist Jeremy Scahill summed it up after the verdict when he told Democracy Now: “We’re in a moment when journalism is being criminalized.”
For those who want to tell the public what the government is doing with our money and in our name, there are new imperatives. Governmental secrecy, surveillance and the systematic silencing of whistleblowers require updated methods for journalists and journalism organizations of all kinds. Americans pursuing this craft have to understand the risks and find countermeasures.
That is not enough. The public needs to awaken to the threat to its own freedoms from the Obama crackdown on leaks and, by extension, journalism and free speech itself. We are, more and more, a society where unaccountable people can commit unspeakable acts with impunity. They are creating a surveillance state that makes not just dissent, but knowledge itself, more and more dangerous. What we know about this is entirely due to leakers and their outlets. Ignorance is only bliss for the unaccountable.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
***********Democrats seek to systematically debunk Republican’s IRS claims
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 17:58 EDT
House Democrats are attempting to push back against the Republican narrative of the IRS scandal.
In video uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee highlighted that many Republican claims about the IRS had been directly contradicted by Treasury Inspector General J. George Russell, the man in charge of investigating the IRS targeting of tea party groups.
During a congressional hearing last month, Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) asked the inspector general if the scrutiny of tea party groups applying for tax exempt status was politically motivated. He also asked if the White House had an “enemies list” and if the Obama administration had used the IRS to target tea party groups. Russell said there was no evidence to support those claims.
Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) also released a statement on Tuesday blasting a Republican report on the IRS targeting of tea party groups. The report concluded that conservative groups received much higher levels of scrutiny than progressive groups, but Levin accused the report of being woefully incomplete.
“The Republican analysis makes no mention of the time period of applications reviewed, no mention of whether they were the same applications reviewed by TIGTA in connection with the audit, and no mention of the fact that there are terms that reflect liberal organizations other than ‘progressive,’ he explained in his statement. “What’s more, it doesn’t disclose the overall number of conservative groups – compared with liberal groups – who applied for tax-exempt status. This is a recurring problem in this investigation – the release of incomplete information.”
“The overwhelming fact remains that Republicans will do everything they can to deflect attention from their inability to do almost anything – a record that has earned them historically low ratings from the American public,” Levin concluded.
************Obama’s tax code bargain: Lower corporate tax rate but eliminate loopholes
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 17:11 EDT
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday will propose lowering corporate tax rates in exchange for eliminating loopholes in a renewed bid to strike a fiscal deal with rival Republicans.
The reheated tax reform plan, first proposed and then rejected by Republicans in 2011, is part of a renewed bid by the president to create a “better bargain” for the middle class in a second term thus far marked by few accomplishments.
Republicans, especially Tea Party conservatives, have rejected any proposals that would increase government revenue, insisting that only spending cuts can roll back the bloated deficit without further harming the sluggish economic recovery.
Seeking middle ground, the president was to give a speech in Chattanooga, Tennessee calling for a simplification of the US tax code that would lower the tax rate for businesses without worsening the deficit.
“Our current tax code is broken and too complex, with businesses that play by the rules paying a 35 percent tax rate while many corporations that can hire hundreds of lawyers pay virtually no taxes at all,” the White House said in a statement.
“That is why the president has called for a revenue-neutral simplification of our business tax code to eliminate loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas and establishes a top tax rate of 28 percent,” it said.
“Some businesses would pay less, some corporations would pay more, but everyone would pay their fair share.”
In Chattanooga, Obama was to continue a ground campaign launched last week aimed at reviving interest in stalled economic initiatives, many of which date back to his first term.
Obama is seeking a “grand bargain” with rival Republicans that would simplify the tax code while boosting investment in education and infrastructure.
But with 2014 congressional elections on the horizon, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has expressed little interest in working with the president.
The Republicans insist Obama’s plans would only saddle corporations with more taxes while pouring more money into government programs they believe do not work.
An aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, speaking on condition of anonymity, roundly rejected the latest initiative.
The official insisted that any reforms apply to the corporate and individual tax codes, that all changes be revenue-neutral and that there be no additional “stimulus spending.”
“The president is taking his idea of tax reform, making it worse, and then demanding ransom of more stimulus spending to get it. Some bargain,” the official said.
In the speech at an Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, Obama was expected to hail signs of an improving economy, including the online retail giant’s announcement Monday that it will hire another 7,000 US workers.
Despite lingering high unemployment and low growth, Obama has insisted in a string of recent speeches that the economy is on the right track after his administration helped it to narrowly avoid another Great Depression in 2009.
*************New EPA chief: Can we stop talking about regulations killing jobs, please?
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:14 EDT
By Richard Valdmanis and Valerie Volcovici
CAMBRIDGE, Mass./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Delivering her first speech as the top U.S. environmental steward, Gina McCarthy on Tuesday pre-empted a frequent mantra of critics of the Environmental Protection Agency – that the agency’s regulations disrupt the economy and cost jobs.
The benefits derived from rules to address climate change and protect the environment far outweigh their costs, said McCarthy, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 18 as EPA administrator.
“Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs, please?” McCarthy said in a speech at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The EPA, often a lightning rod for Republican opposition in Congress, is working to develop “a new mindset about how climate change and environmental protection fits within our national and global economic agenda,” McCarthy said.
Embracing the need to cut carbon emissions should be seen not as a threat but as a “way to spark business innovation,” she said.
The federal Clean Air Act, the basis of the EPA’s powers to set rules, has produced $30 in benefits for every dollar spent in its name, she added.
McCarthy was confirmed after a months-long process that at one point involved a Republican boycott of a committee vote and required her to answer more than 1,000 questions posted by senators about the EPA’s rulemaking processes and transparency.
The speech, just a few miles from her hometown of Boston, marked the start of a nationwide tour to talk about why acting on climate change is necessary and to dispel common criticisms.
McCarthy, along with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, is making public appearances to help President Barack Obama roll out the Climate Action Plan he announced in June.
At the heart of Obama’s plan will be new EPA regulations that will target carbon emissions from existing power plants, which account for more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gases and in many cases are fired by coal.
McCarthy said the agency will try to replicate the success it had with the U.S. automotive industry, with which it collaborated to craft new fuel efficiency standards.
“This is a game plan for other sectors to follow on how we can reduce emissions, strengthen energy security and develop new economic benefits for consumers and businesses,” McCarthy said.
In addition to close collaboration with industry, McCarthy said she will look to states and local governments that have piloted emission reduction policies and blueprints without waiting for Washington. She said the EPA would not be a leader, but a follower of states’ programs to curb emissions, relying on the work they’ve already put into force.
‘HONEST COMMENTER’ ON KEYSTONE
McCarthy also addressed one of the most controversial environmental and energy issues facing the Obama administration – the proposed Keystone Pipeline project.
Responding to a question about the climate impact of the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline, McCarthy first jokingly pretended to walk away from the podium before responding.
“In all seriousness, I think the best that EPA can do is to be an honest commenter on the environmental impact statement, which we’ve done our best to do and which we’ll continue to do,” she said.
An assessment of the project by the EPA released in March raised concerns about the analysis done by the State Department, which found there would be no significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
McCarthy said the Obama administration was examining all aspects of the pipeline proposal.
“It is not supposed to be easy,” she said. “It is supposed to be hard, it is supposed to be all interests coming together and screaming at the top of their lungs like three crazy children.”
(Reporting By Richard Valdmanis; Writing by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny, Maureen Bavdek and Leslie Adler)
*************Senate urges financial regulators to implement reforms
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 16:34 EDT
US senators pressed regulators on Tuesday to speed up implementation of financial service industry reforms aimed at reducing risks from transactions like derivatives swaps that contributed to the 2007 financial crisis.
Mary Jo White, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with regulating US markets and securities, told the Senate Banking Committee she hoped to roll out many rules that protect investors and consumers this year.
“I have several things on front burners,” said White, a former high-profile prosecutor who was confirmed as President Barack Obama’s SEC chief in April.
“I think we’ve made very good progress. We’re continuing to push extremely hard to complete those rulemakings.”
The SEC is overseeing implementation of dozens of new regulations laid out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010, which sought to tighten regulations on broad sections of the financial services industry in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Among them are the much-anticipated regulations on the so-called Volcker Rule, a segment of Dodd-Frank aimed at keeping banks from speculative trades in their own accounts, a tactic that led to the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.
Asked specifically about a time line for the Volcker rulemaking, White said, “that may be completed by year-end.”
Also under final crafting are new rules on the application of Dodd-Frank to cross-border, security-based swap transactions.
But White said the SEC was short-staffed, and two new two new commissioners were just taking up their posts on the five-member body.
“I’m not saying every single one will be done by year-end,” she said of the various reforms, which include regulations on small business filing requirements, the relatively new practice of crowdfunding, and disclosures of chief executive salaries.
“Having just passed Dodd-Frank’s third anniversary, there is still considerable work to be done,” Senator Michael Crapo, the committee’s top Republican, told the hearing.
Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission which oversees the complex environment of swap deals, testified along with White.
While Gensler said the CFTC has “not shied away from bringing cases against large banks” that break the rules, he and White bemoaned the comparatively low level of funding for their agencies.
“I would say our enforcement resources are tiny compared to the size of the markets,” Gensler said.
“The American public put $180 billion into AIG,” he said, referring to the 2008 bailout of the insurance giant.
“That’s 600 times what the president asked for funding for our agency.”
*************Senate confirms full slate of labor board nominees
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 19:10 EDT
By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, marking the first time in a decade that the bipartisan agency that oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices has had a full Senate-confirmed slate of five members.
“It’s time to ratchet down the political rhetoric that has haunted this agency,” Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said before the votes.
Democratic nominee Mark Gaston Pearce, the board’s current chairman, was confirmed for another term by a 59-38 vote.
Before President Barack Obama named Pearce to the board in 2010, he represented workers and unions in private practice and was an attorney in an NLRB regional office in Buffalo, New York.
“Together, we will continue to do the work that is necessary to enforce the law, so that business owners and employees can prosper and improve the lives of their families, their communities and our country,” Pearce said of the newly confirmed board in a statement.
Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, who both received a 54-44 vote, are also longtime labor lawyers who have worked in NLRB regional offices.
Hirozawa has been chief counsel to Chairman Pearce. He also spent 20 years at a labor and employment firm in New York City and worked in an NLRB field office there.
Schiffer works in the general counsel’s office at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. She began her legal career in an NLRB regional office in Detroit, Michigan, before going into private practice.
Two Republican nominees, Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, were confirmed by voice vote.
Both are attorneys who represent management in labor disputes. Miscimarra works for the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Chicago. Johnson works in the Los Angeles office of the firm Arent Fox.
“With today’s vote, our country has qualified public servants on duty to defend America’s workers, businesses and families,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
The confirmations in the Democrat-controlled chamber mark the end of a contentious political battle over NLRB nominations. Republican lawmakers, who have accused the agency of activist decision-making, had refused to reconfirm two current board members whose appointments are being challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In mid-July, Obama withdrew the contested nominations and replaced them with Hirozawa and Schiffer. The swap was key to a bipartisan deal to usher an array of stalled nominations through the Senate.
The case before the Supreme Court challenges the validity of Obama’s 2012 “recess appointments” to the NLRB when the Senate was in session but not conducting business. A federal appeals court in January ruled the appointments invalid. The Obama administration has appealed and the Supreme Court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.
(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Ros Krasny and Stacey Joyce)
**************Ted Cruz: ‘Why is President Obama threatening to shut down the federal government?’
By David Edwards
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:50 EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Tuesday argued that President Barack Obama and Democrats, not Republicans, were the ones trying to shut down the federal government because he insisted on funding a health care reform law that was passed in 2010.
Last week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called on Republicans to refuse to vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government if included any funding for Obamacare. Cruz said that the government should be shut down unless the Affordable Care Act was “fully” defunded.
“Under no circumstances will I support a continuing resolution that funds even one penny of Obamacare,” Cruz told The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. “In order to win this fight, we need to get 41 Republicans in the Senate to make the same commitment or we need 218 Republicans in the House.”
“The next step will be that President Obama and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid will scream and yell, ‘Why are those mean and nasty Republicans threatening to shut down the government over Obamacare?’” he continued. “And at that point, we’ve actually got to stand up and fight.”
“We’ve got to stand up and make the argument and win the argument that, ‘No, that’s not true. We have voted to fund the federal government. We want to fund the federal government. Why is President Obama threatening to shut down the federal government? Because he wants force Obamacare down people’s throats.’”
One reporter pointed out to Cruz that polls showed that most people thought that defunding a law and shutting down the government was not the proper way to govern.
The Texas senator, however, argued that some polls had been crafted as tools of advocacy.
“Even phrased in the most ridiculous, offensive way, half of Republicans said, absolutely,” he noted. “Now, what’s interesting is if you frame it the other way, ‘Should President Obama shut down the federal government in order to force Obamacare on individual families even though corporations are getting a waiver?’ You know what? Those polls numbers flip around immediately.”
“It is the only strategy that I’m aware of that can work,” Cruz explained. “And if we do not pursue this strategy, we are saying, we surrender. Obamacare will remain a permanent feature of the American economy. And you know what? There are an awful lot of members of Congress in both Houses who campaigned explicitly on saying, we will fight to repeal Obamacare.”
Update (1:45 p.m. ET): Cruz later argued that a government shutdown would not be a “horrible calamity” because the same thing essentially happened every weekend.
He pointed to the government shutdown of 1995 as example: “Number one, the world didn’t end. Planes didn’t fall out of the sky, Social Security checks didn’t stop, military paychecks didn’t stop, we didn’t default on our national debt. What happened was that non-essential government services were temporarily suspended while the [continuing resolution] expired. Now, that happens every single week on the weekend. On Saturdays and Sundays, we see temporary partial government shutdowns and the world doesn’t end.”
***********‘Morning Joe’ panel calls Ted Cruz ‘completely ignorant’ member of ‘Taliban’
By David Ferguson
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 9:00 EDT
Wednesday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough and panel ripped into Texas freshman Sen. Ted Cruz and his intention to shut down the federal government to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Scarborough called Cruz a “train wreck” and “completely ignorant,” while Daily Best editor Tina Brown compared him to a member of the “Taliban.”
“Have you seen what Ted Cruz is doing?” Scarborough asked. “Ted Cruz is attacking anybody who’s not willing to shut down the government over Obamacare. He’s lambasting fellow conservatives like Tom Coburn — Tom Coburn! — and saying that he serves in the ‘surrender caucus.’”
“I need to be very careful about what I’m going to say here,” said the former Florida Republican congressman. “Ted Cruz comes in obviously so completely ignorant about the war that Tom Coburn has been fighting for twenty years, and to say something like this about Tom Coburn — Ted Cruz, he is a total train wreck.”
Former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle said, “If I were little Teddly Cruz, I would be extremely cautious about getting into the ring with Tom Coburn. Ted Cruz would end up being Kid Candle in that fight. One blow, and he will be out against Tom Coburn.”
“Jon Favreau’s written a great piece in the Daily Beast about this whole trend now about not the small government conservative, but the no government conservative,” said Best editor Tina Brown. “That is what Tom Cruz is a member of. This is the Taliban.”
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjNSgRIKEwg
**********Rush Limbaugh Still Controls A Major Political Party
By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 9:04 EDT
Very few people bother to vote in primaries. This is true even in contentious presidential elections where there are ton of nominees to choose from, such as the Obama vs. Clinton stand-off in 2008 or the Romney vs. A Cast of Clowns stand-off in 2012. For instance, only 9.4 million people voted in the Republican primary in 2012, out of over 56 million who voted for Romney in the general. For state and local offices, it’s even lower turnout, which means that a handful of determined extremists can basically run the party, especially the Republican party, where the most wild-eyed fanatics just so happen to be the most dedicated voters.
This is how it works, therefore:
Wild-eyed fanatics who are all hopped up on the latest bizarre theories and paranoias fed to them by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News choose the most right-leaning candidate out of the field. In major primaries—well, only the presidential one anymore—enough cooler heads show up that this may not happen, but on the state and especially local level, good luck to anyone who shows a bit of common sense, if they’re up against someone who can speak pure Wingnut.
Come the general election, at least in red states, a strong majority of white people automatically vote for the Republican, often with no idea how bad the politician they voted for really is. They vote Republican because being “conservative” is their identity as white people in red states, even if their understanding of that is no deeper than “guns are good and liberals are bad”. If they really thought about it, they probably wouldn’t be supportive of the ending Medicare/privatizing schools agenda that has become mainstream in the Republican party through the primary system, but the fear of becoming one of those hated liberals tends to override policy concerns.
In some cases, however, certain politicians have been targeted—think Todd Akin—who thought themselves a shoo-in because of this process, but because relentless national attention to their fanatical views, enough reluctant Republicans switched their vote. After all, if you do it just this once—whether it’s voting Democratic or sex with someone outside of your usual gender of preference—it doesn’t mean you have to give up your identity. While that’s a good lever to pull for Democrats, it also have limited value, for this reason. Every time Democrats run a “look at this woman-hating fanatic!” campaign, they exhaust a number of people who are giving them their one lifetime vote for a Democrat.
I bring this up because Alex Pareene’s article about Rush Limbaugh’s declining audience is exciting news, but it’s also worth contemplating that the decline is slow enough that Limbaugh himself may retire or pass away before his ratings decline below a point of controlling the Republican base. It is true that Limbaugh’s numbers seem small enough:
The first thing to remember is that no one actually has any clue how many people listen to Limbaugh with any regularity. Limbaugh’s audience certainly sounds massive at 14 million weekly listeners, but that supposedly represents any person who tunes into Limbaugh’s show for any period of time over the course of a week. At any given period in his show, though, an average of three million people are tuned to Limbaugh. That’s not nothing, but it’s close. It wouldn’t crack the top 25 broadcast TV shows. And radio ratings involve even more guesswork and estimation (and spin) than television ratings. Limbaugh said his audience was “20 million” 20 years ago and people have just been repeating that number ever since, but no one actually has any clue.
That’s a group that would have no real power in the United States…unless somehow they managed to gain control over a major political party that had a reliable set of voters who worry that their balls will fall off if they cross the line and vote their conscience instead of their identity. Which they can unfortunately do, because so few people vote in primaries. Fourteen million people is enough to supply all the primary voters you need to control the party twice over. On the state and local level, only a fraction of Limbaugh’s audience is needed to turn his paranoia about “RINOs” into action, voting for the wingnuttiest of the wingnuts. That’s why we have such fun characters in Congress as Michele Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, and Steve King, and why that faction is going to have pull and even, in some cases, complete control for a long ass time.